Assuming this is legit, what do you do if you’re Team Trump? He can’t deliver the scripted answers now that they’ve been telegraphed or it’ll turn into a joke. The last thing he wants black voters to think in his “heartfelt outreach” effort is that he’s reciting someone else’s carefully calculated sentiments. But if the campaign rewrites the script in order to avoid similarities with what the Times has, they’re getting away from the message they want to present.
Which leads to a bigger question. Which “official who has been involved in the planning” of the event leaked the script to the Times? It’s an act of pure sabotage. If Trump has someone on the inside who’d knife him this way (among those consulting on the event are his team, the RNC, and some black Republican advisors), he needs to find out who it is before they do further damage.
An eight-page draft script obtained by The New York Times shows 12 questions that Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the church’s pastor, intends to ask Mr. Trump during the taped question-and-answer session, as well as the responses Mr. Trump is being advised to give…
The document includes the exact wording of answers the aides are proposing for Mr. Trump to give to questions about police killings, racial tension and the perception among many black voters that he and the Republican Party are racist, among other topics…
It is not uncommon for a candidate to request interview questions in advance; aides to Hillary Clinton do it from time to time. But it is unusual for a campaign to go so far as to prepare a script for a candidate’s own responses, and highlights the sensitivity of Mr. Trump’s first appearance at a black church. Mr. Trump’s series of slights, including his questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate, has not endeared him to black voters.
The interview will be aired about a week later on the Impact Network, Bishop Jackson’s Christian cable television channel. The official said several Trump aides would be working with the network to edit the taped interview so that the final version reflected the campaign’s wishes.
Every politician uses talking points. If that’s all this is, meh — although the Times notes that the script includes an answer even to a question as basic as “Are you a Christian and do you believe the Bible is an inspired word of God?” (“As I went through my life, things got busy with business, but my family kept me grounded to the truth and the word of God.”) If Trump really does end up going word-for-word off of what the Times has, the paper’s going to report that after the event and that’ll be the story, not the event itself. The script is less noteworthy in its own right, though, then in the wider context of how controlled this Q&A is apparently going to be. There’ll be no congregation or other live audience present, to the alleged dismay of some of the black consultants on the project. (Team Trump was “uncomfortable” with him addressing the congregation.) It’s closed to the public and to the media. As noted in the excerpt, the campaign will also get to participate in the editing of the video recording to make sure Trump comes off in the best possible light. Trump’s great virtue to his base, the fact that he says just what he thinks and doesn’t worry about offending people, is out the window when it comes to speaking directly to a black audience.
Which is silly in a sense. He has nowhere to go but up with black voters. He’s at two percent among them nationally, behind Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, in the new Suffolk poll out today. He can’t realistically go any lower, and if he spoke freely and with some characteristic Trumpian charm, it might win some viewers over. If his campaign is so worried about him saying the wrong thing that they’d script the entire thing, questions and answers, it’s probably because this is another event that’s ostensibly designed as minority outreach but is really aimed at outreach to more moderate white voters who are leery of Trump right now on racial issues. If the Q&A comes off smoothly, he’ll get a round of headlines to the effect that he’s trying to make nice with blacks, he’s being inclusive, he’s not the gargoyle Hillary Clinton wants you to believe he is, and so forth. That’ll help him with the racial group that’s really hurting him right now, white voters — specifically women and college grads. His team evidently concluded that even an obviously scripted Trump who doesn’t sound much like the “real” Trump is a smaller gamble than letting him go out there and risk a major gaffe by going off the cuff. Although even then — if the interview’s going to be edited, why not let him swing for the fences? If his “what do you have to lose?” pitch delves into stereotypes again, snip. That part doesn’t air.
Although it might leak. And that would be a problem. There’s a saboteur on the inside, after all. Exit question: Does anyone think Trump is going to spend time memorizing any script word for word? He’s not even holding mock debates to prepare for Hillary, for cripes sake, even though his chances at winning probably depend on a stellar performance. I’ll bet even “The Apprentice” didn’t involve much more than handing him a few key points and letting him deliver them in his own inimitable way.