Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale got more than 600 retweets for beaming out this Trump quote on Saturday, although when I googled it, I came up empty.
Trump acknowledging the act: "When I'm president, I'm a different person. I can be the most politically correct person you've ever seen."
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) January 23, 2016
I tweeted Dale this morning and asked for the source. You’ll find it in the clip below, from a Q&A after Trump’s most recent rally in Pella, Iowa, at around the 1:48:00 mark. (There should be an ellipsis between the two sentences in Dale’s tweet but nothing was omitted that would change the meaning of what Trump said.) He’s talking about tone here, and he’s made this point about tone before. He’s aggressive and anti-PC on the trail, in a knife fight with 15 other candidates, because that’s what it takes to win, but if winning at the job of the presidency requires a different tone, then that’s the tone he’ll take. This must be the first time in American history where it’s impossible to predict not only what a major-party frontrunner would do as president — given Trump’s volatile political history, all we can count on is that there’ll be “deals” — but how he would sound. And that’s bound up in the other money Trump quote from this weekend:
Trump: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters."
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) January 23, 2016
Glenn Beck, a Cruz supporter, called that sentiment “dangerous” this weekend. Trump obviously meant it as a joke, an exaggerated statement of how loyal his fans are. But it’s striking even as a joke because it proves that not only is he aware of the cult of personality around him, he’s counting on it to increase his freedom of political movement — and that is a little dangerous. Try to imagine the reaction among Cruz fans if he went out onstage today in Iowa and promised he’d be a “different person” as president with forays into political correctness as circumstances require. They’d be mortified. If you like Cruz, you like him because of what he stands for and the fact that he’s not afraid to piss off the right people in doing so. The instant he ceases to fill that role, he’s disposable. What Trump’s telling you in these two quotes is that those rules don’t apply to him. Barring some truly core betrayal, like signing a new amnesty into law, he thinks he can count on his fans to follow him anywhere. And if he decides that he needs to dispense with the tone, or the policies, that he’s been pushing on the trail and become the most politically correct person you’ve ever seen as president, then he, in his wisdom, must have his reasons. (Relatedly, Obama cultists started off as anti-war and anti-drone and anti-“unitary executive” in 2008 and have been shrugging at Obama’s deviations from that line ever since.) The amazing thing about the “Fifth Avenue” quote is that it’s a joke at his own followers’ expense. A friend called it his “Lonesome Rhodes moment,” in which a populist hero ends up laughing at the devotion of his own fan base. Judging from Twitter this weekend, the reaction to it from fans actually proves Trump’s point: Even though they’re the butt of the joke, they defended him on grounds that he was kidding, it’s hyperbole, and so on. Meanwhile, if Obama had made the same joke in 2008 at the height of his own cult of personality, conservative media would have needed smelling salts. It would have been treated as an ominous sign of arrogance and intoxication with power in a would-be commander-in-chief. But I guess we’re already past any illusions about that double standard.