The Slatest

Trump Pivots, Resets, and Interventions: A Timeline of Spectacular Failure

Donald Trump is seen through a teleprompter as he holds a campaign event at the Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University on Monday.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Since officially becoming the Republican nominee late last month, Donald Trump has veered from one controversy of his own making to another. In the short span of less than four weeks, he publicly feuded with the gold star parents of a fallen U.S. soldier, claimed that the debate system is rigged and, later, that the election itself would be stolen from him. He also suggested gun-rights advocates would do something to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing liberal Supreme Court justices if she wins in November, and then went on to claim a few days later with a straight face that President Obama and Clinton “founded” ISIS, which he later clarified he didn’t literally mean, unless on third thought maybe he kinda did. All that at a time when he was ostensibly doing everything he could to unite his party and even expand his base ahead of Election Day.

Naturally, then, his decision to stand on stage on Monday and Tuesday and read from a teleprompter so he didn’t sound completely unhinged had pundits and politicos wondering, again, if we were finally about to see the most mythical of creatures: the Trump campaign reset, aka the general election pivot, aka the overdue electoral reinvention. Wednesday morning brought the answer: not a chance. By tapping Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon as his new campaign chief, Trump made it clear that he has no interest in placating the GOP establishment that has been begging him to at least feign in the direction of the mainstream.

Of course, that should have been painfully obvious already. History has shown that the GOP nominee either can’t change or simply doesn’t want to—and there’s been nothing anyone has been able to do to make him, either. Here’s a look back at the many, many, MANY times that Republican big wigs have tried and failed to nudge Trump onto a more traditional track, or that Trump himself has taken one step in the direction of political normalcy (either by choice or necessity) only to quickly retreat to more familiar and fringe-y ground.

March 21: Donald Trump Breaks Out the Teleprompter

The “pivot,” via the Washington Post:

Before Donald Trump took the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington on Monday night, organizers set up two teleprompters. A different sort of presidential candidate then took the stage, surrounded by 10 men in dark suits. Trump prepared a speech for the conference—something that he has yet to acknowledge doing on the campaign trail—and he mostly stuck to it, injecting only a few ad libs here and there as his eyes darted from one teleprompter to the other.

What happened next: Two days later, Donald Trump retweeted a message mocking the appearance of Ted Cruz’s wife.

April 7: Donald Trump Promotes Paul Manafort

The “pivot,” via the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump is expanding his team and empowering his newly hired convention manager as he tries reboot his presidential campaign after the worst two-week stretch of his brief political career. The stepped-up role for the convention manager, Paul Manafort, … was intended in part to quash reports of infighting and concerns about an organization whose performance has been lackluster at best in a recent string of nominating contests.

What happened next: immediate signs of an internal struggle within the campaign, which soon become public. Before the month was out, a number of Trump aides provided Politico with an unflattering picture of Manafort’s first weeks on the job.

April 14: Donald Trump Hires Rick Wiley

The “pivot,” via Reuters:

Republican front-runner Donald Trump took fresh steps to reset his campaign on Wednesday, hiring a top Republican operative and scheduling a meeting between aides and U.S. lawmakers as he girds for a new phase in his White House bid. … Trump announced he had hired Rick Wiley as his national political director. Wiley, a long-time Republican strategist, had been campaign manager for Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who dropped out of the presidential race last autumn.

What happened next: Trump parts ways with Wiley on June 25, roughly a month and a half after he hired him.

April 22: Manafort Reassures GOP Leaders It’s All Just an Act

The “pivot,” via the Associated Press:

Donald Trump’s chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday that the GOP front-runner has been “projecting an image” so far in the 2016 primary season and “the part that he’s been playing is now evolving” in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters. The message, delivered behind closed doors in a private briefing, is part of the campaign’s intensifying effort to convince party leaders Trump will moderate his tone in the coming months to help deliver big electoral gains this fall, despite his contentious ways.

What happened next: The following week, Trump delivers his “America First” foreign policy speech, which alarms many U.S. allies abroad. Several days later, Trump suggests Ted Cruz’s father may have been involved in the assassination of JFK.

May 20: Mitch McConnell Tells Trump to cool It

The “intervention,” via Bloomberg:

McConnell said he delivered that message in person when the two were in the green room together at the recent National Rifle Association convention in Louisville. “I said, ‘Hey Donald, you got a script?’ and he pulled it out of his pocket. He said, ‘You know I hate scripts, they’re so boring.’ And I said, ‘Put me down in favor of boring. You’ve demonstrated that you have a lot of Twitter followers and you’re good at turning on a big audience. Now you need to demonstrate you have the seriousness of purpose that is required to be president of the United States, and most candidates on frequent occasions use a script.’ So we’ll see whether that’s something he’s capable of doing.”

What happened next: Three days later, Trump suggests that Hillary and Bill Clinton are murderers. Roughly a week and a half after that, he sparks a new controversy by claiming an Indiana-born federal judge is biased against him because he is “Mexican,” a comment even Paul Ryan would later concede was “textbook” racism.

June 7: Let’s Try This Again

The “pivot,” via CBS News:

Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump stood behind a podium at his golf club in Westchester and gave the speech that many of his Republican allies have been hoping for: sober and trying to sell his policy ideas on trade, foreign policy and job creation. It was to be the beginning of a new chapter moving into the general election. …

Trump gave the speech with the assistance of teleprompters, which he has previously derided for being a tool of entrenched politicians. … The Tuesday evening speech was noticeably different than the free-wheeling, informal Trump at rallies. … Trump didn’t make a single mention of any of the key pillars of his platform: That he would temporarily bar Muslims from coming into the country, would deport every single undocumented immigrant that is currently residing in the United States and build a wall along the Southern border to keep them out.

What happened next: Five days later, Trump tweets out a self-congratulatory message in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, later suggests President Obama is somehow sympathetic to ISIS, and then adds the Washington Post to his campaign blacklist the same day.

July 15: Donald Trump Picks Mike Pence as His Running Mate

The “pivot,” via the Washington Post:

Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, ending days of feverish speculation and recruiting to the GOP ticket a soft-spoken and seasoned conservative who could help unify the divided Republican Party. …

Trump’s elevation of Pence, 57, a former House leader and ideological purist who has built a deep well of relationships across the conservative movement, was received enthusiastically in some quarters of the GOP — at least initially having Trump’s intended effect of bringing together Republican factions that had been cool to his candidacy.

What happened next: The next day, during their first joint appearance as running mates, it takes Trump nearly a quarter of an hour to remember that Pence is onstage with him. And, when he does, he makes sure to remind everyone that the Indiana governor had actually endorsed Ted Cruz, and not Trump, during the state’s primary. The political pair’s first sit-down interview airs the following day. It does not go well.

July 17: GOP Chairman Promises a Convention Pivot

The “pivot,” predicted on ABC News: The Sunday before the convention, Reince Priebus predicts Trump’s convention speech “is going to go a long way” toward “pivoting to the general.”

What happened next: Trump is his Trumpian self during the convention, at which he declares that he “alone” can fix the country. After the DNC convention wraps up one week later, Trump decides that his first general election priority is to attack the parents of a fallen Muslim-American soldier. Things didn’t get much better from there.

Aug. 3: Rumors of Another GOP Intervention

The “intervention,” via NBC News:

Key Republicans close to Donald Trump’s orbit are plotting an intervention with the candidate after a disastrous 48 hours led some influential voices in the party to question whether Trump can stay at the top of the Republican ticket without catastrophic consequences for his campaign and the GOP at large.

Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the Trump endorsers hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days, sources tell NBC News.

What happened next: The aforementioned post-convention controversy tour continues with Trump’s comment six days later about what the “Second Amendment people” would do to stop a President Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices.

Aug. 14: RNC Considers Cutting Cash in October

The “intervention,” via Politico:

Publicly, Republican Party officials continue to stand by Donald Trump. Privately, at the highest levels, party leaders have started talking about cutting off support to Trump in October and redirecting cash to save endangered congressional majorities.

Since the Cleveland convention, top party officials have been quietly making the case to political journalists, donors and GOP operatives that the Republican National Committee has done more to help Trump than it did to support its 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, and that therefore Trump has only himself and his campaign to blame for his precipitous slide in the polls, according to people who have spoken with Republican leadership.

What happened next: Two days later, Trump tells a Wisconsin TV station: “It’s me, I don’t want to change. Everyone talks about. ‘Oh, are you gonna pivot?’ I don’t want to pivot.” The following morning he backs up those words by installing Bannon as his new campaign chief.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.