The grown-ups who’ve taken over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign would like the Republican “establishment” to know that it’s all been an act, and he’s ready to pivot to something resembling a viable general-election candidate come Cleveland. The new head of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, promised Republican National Committee members as much on Thursday at a closed-door parley during the group’s spring meeting in Florida.
This meeting, obviously, was recorded and leaked forthwith to the press. “That’s what’s important for you to understand,” Manafort reassured the assembled, as reported by the New York Times. “That he gets it, and that the part he’s been playing is evolving.” Translated into formal D.C.-ese, a language in which Manafort is fluent, he is saying that Donald Trump gets the joke. He’s perfectly self-aware and is just playing the game, riling up the nativists en route to the Republican nomination.
This was meant to quell RNC members’ concerns about Trump’s jaw-droppingly poor favorability ratings, which Manafort believes (or is paid to say he believes) are pliant. Consider the chin-stroking distinction he struck between irrecoverably low popularity versus unpopularity by, uh, design? “Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,” Manafort said. “You can’t change somebody’s character. But you can change the way somebody presents themselves.”
You don’t get to be a lobbyist to a who’s-who of autocrats if you can’t bullshit like this. But let’s follow through with this distinction that he almost certainly made up five minutes before addressing the RNC. There is personality, as in the construction one presents to the public, and there is character, as in the sort of person one really is. Manafort would have us believe that the personality—that of a pig, which appeals to a requisite number of white males to win the Republican presidential nomination—is just a lie; the character, meanwhile—to be unveiled in the general election!—is more akin to, say, Abraham Lincoln, or some other really terrific guy.
A couple of red flags here. The first would be that a person willing to project a total lie of a personality for personal gain is axiomatically a lousy character. But we don’t even get that far. Because there’s no reason to believe that the personality Trump has presented in his campaign is anything other than an extension of his truest self, which is a pig.
Trump has been successful in his brief political career, which has taken place totally within the context of a Republican presidential primary. Within whatever context, the politicians who are usually most successful run campaigns that are extensions of their personalities—i.e. ones that can project “authentic” versions of themselves rather than total constructs, which leads to easily sniffed-out phoniness. It confuses some observers as to how Trump’s fans can really believe that he’s “authentic” or “honest,” which they all really do believe, because on the policy level he’s changed his mind so many times in his career that the rank opportunism of it all is unmistakable. But it makes sense—he’s put together the package that clicks! The piggish positions and piggish postures he’s adopted strike just about everyone as the honest and authentic extension of Donald Trump, pig.
Trump politicks like a real estate developer. He doesn’t want a whole bunch of poor people spilling over onto his property and disturbing the members. So of course he wants a wall around the perimeter. The idea of a wall lights up a mind like Donald Trump’s with euphoria. And then there are Muslims. Muslims: bad, scary, not a good look, bad for property values—don’t let them in. Trump believes that a woman’s worth directly correlates with her looks and that a man’s worth directly correlates with the eye candy on his arm. A former associate, for example, said that he did not want to be seen in public eating lunch with a woman he deemed ugly. When Trump couldn’t believe people would consider voting for a “face” like Carly Fiorina’s, or when he retweeted a side-by-side photo of his wife, Melania, and Heidi Cruz, this was not an act, put on to get the rubes interested. That was Donald Trump, all right, and if he captures the nomination, it won’t matter what pressure Paul Manafort or Rick Wiley or Reince Priebus puts on him: The over-under on how long it takes him to call Hillary Clinton a “bitch” during a general-election prime-time press conference will be two weeks. Thirty percent of the country will love it. Seventy percent will not.
He can’t change who he is, and he can’t shed the baggage he’s accumulated as a result of being who he is, which is a pig.