Jazz touched on this earlier but it’s worth posting the audio of Paul Manafort addressing the RNC yesterday, just a few hours after Trump reminded his socially conservative fans once again that he’s not nearly as conservative as they are. If Cruz’s campaign manager had said this about him to a bunch of establishment Republicans, he’d be done instantly. It would shatter his credibility among grassroots righties who prefer him because they trust him to be as conservative in governing as he claims to be on the stump. Manafort knows, though, that 90 percent of Trump’s appeal to his fans has to do with his persona, not with policy. You don’t vote for Trump because he’s promised you X, Y, and Z (Cruz has promised to build a wall too, after all), you vote for him because you’ve bought his BS that somehow he’s going to smash “the system” and redress every grievance that his white working-class base has with the left. He’s a superhero. All you need to do is hand him power and trust him. If the path to power requires playing a “part,” hey.
“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Manafort said in a private briefing.
“You’ll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You’ll see a real different guy,” he said…
“He gets it,” Manafort said of Trump’s need to moderate his personality. “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”
We heard a lot this week about how he was in the process of changing, e.g., referring to Cruz as “Senator Cruz” in his victory speech on Tuesday, right before Trump went back out on the trail and started attacking “Lyin’ Ted” again. The best spin you can put on what Manafort said, I think, is that he’s scamming the RNC here, not Trump’s base. Trump won’t be a “real different guy” in the general election campaign because he can’t afford to be. He simply doesn’t have the policy chops to fill the enormous vacuum that would be left if he toned done his shtick. His core fans wouldn’t want him to tone it down anyway — they love him because “he fights!”, and they’re expecting plenty of street-fighting with the Clintons — and the fat-walleted establishmentarians who do won’t believe that a more subdued Trump is the “real” Trump after watching his tabloid exploits over the last 30 years. (It’s because there’s 30 years’ worth of material, in fact, that Trump’s negatives aren’t going to come down. He can try but Hillary’s ad people will try harder.) Even if he wanted to tone himself down, he’ll have no choice but to perform for the media to try to offset Hillary’s fundraising advantage. Manafort’s simply telling the RNC what they want to hear to make them a bit more amenable to the idea of nominating Trump in Cleveland. If I had to bet, I’d bet that Trump spends August trying to project a more “presidential” demeanor and then, when he sees his polls aren’t moving, he’ll give up and decide to let it rip again. If you’re going to lose, you might as well be yourself.
The most interesting thing Manafort said yesterday, incidentally, wasn’t the bit about Trump playing a part. I think it was this:
“Is Donald Trump running against the Republican National Committee?” asked Mr. Manafort, referring to the candidate’s unrelenting assault on what he calls the “crooked” nominating process. “The answer is he is not.”…
“He gave us the mandate to bring together a team of professionals that could finish the job for him, but could also then begin to link in with the establishment institutions that are part of our party, what you represent, what the state parties represent,” he said, also alluding to think tanks and members of Congress. “We’ve started all those conversations,” said Manafort, adding of Mr. Trump, “He cares about the united team.”
Trump changing his “tone” on the trail for different audiences is one thing, Trump buddying up to “establishment institutions” within the party is another. Cruz is under pressure to do that too, but the whole point of Trump’s attack on Cruz lately is that he’s a phony outsider who’s taking full advantage of the establishment’s “rigged system.” Now here’s Manafort reassuring the RNC that he’s not running against them and even wants to “link in” with them. The Trumpist defense of that, I assume, is that he’s coopting the machine in order to subvert it, but the fact that Manafort’s promising a newer, “real different” guy this fall suggests that maybe the machine is coopting him. This has always been the great mystery of a Trump presidency: Will he be some sort of loose cannon, issuing illegal orders to the military and using Obama’s precedents for a major executive power grab, or would he actually be too docile in being led around by Washington Republicans eager to fill the gaps in Trump’s policy and institutional knowledge with their own preferences? Manafort’s presentation is a small data point for the latter theory. But what a treat to be on the cusp of nominating a guy who could go in either of those two terrible directions — without having any firm sense of which it’ll be.