A Donald Trump Pivot? Don’t Count On It

One speech isn't going to make up for what we've seen so far.

Donald Trump Victory

Political talk shows this morning are full of coverage of what some are calling an apparent change in rhetoric from Donald Trump, at least for one speech, but it’s not clear how much of a change this actually represents:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Donald J. Trump on Thursday expressed regret for making statements that have “caused personal pain,” a rare display of contrition that followed the shake-up of his campaign’s leadership this week.

“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing,” Mr. Trump said. “I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it.”

The crowd gathered at a convention center here responded by chanting Mr. Trump’s name, and he gave them a thumbs-up.

“And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain,” Mr. Trump added. “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.”

Mr. Trump’s statement of regret, in a prepared speech in which he spoke of a “New American Future,” seemed to be a step toward trying to recover from a number of public quarrels and other episodes that have damaged his campaign, including a dispute with the family of an American Muslim soldier who was killed in Iraq.

But in his speech, which he read off a teleprompter, he did not specify what he regretted, offer specific apologies or linger on the subject. In his campaign, Mr. Trump has at times sounded restrained and on-message, only to quickly revert to his more pugilistic nature.

(…)

Mr. Trump installed Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of the website Breitbart News, as the chief executive of his campaign. He also elevated a pollster and strategist who was already advising him, Kellyanne Conway, to serve as campaign manager. The moves were seen as signals that with less than three months left before Election Day, Mr. Trump does not intend to change his contentious approach.

The personnel moves come as polls show Mrs. Clinton leading in critical swing states, including in North Carolina. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll conducted this month found that Mrs. Clinton held a nine-point lead in the state.

In his speech on Thursday, Mr. Trump said that in his administration “every American will be treated equally, protected equally, and honored equally,” echoing a pledge he made on Tuesday outside Milwaukee.

During that speech in Wisconsin, he made a direct appeal to African-Americans. He did so again on Thursday, targeting a demographic that makes up about one-third of the population in Charlotte.

“If African-American voters give Donald Trump a chance by giving me their vote, the result for them will be amazing,” he said.

It seems fairly clear that the change in rhetoric represented in his speech is perhaps the most visible representation so far of the impact of the change in leadership in the campaign announced earlier this week, specifically most likely the influence of Kellyanne Conway, a longtime GOP pollster and political adviser who has long been associated more with the party establishment than the hard-right wing that has been Trump’s base since he entered the race. At the same time that Trump brought Trump on board, though, it’s worth remembering that he also brought on Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon who has long been a cheerleader for the kind of confrontational, controversial rhetoric that Trump has specialized in so far. The contrast between the approaches of these two advisers could not be more apparent, and one wonders just how long it will be before the advice the two give to Trump begins to conflict so much that he’ll have to choose which direction to take his campaign. Trump being Trump, one suspects that he won’t find this new Trump very comfortable for very long and that we’ll see the return of the old Donald Trump in campaign speeches or on Twitter rather quickly, particularly in the wake of the mounting attacks from Hillary Clinton and her supporters that Trump has shown he cannot seem to find a way to not lash out in response to. Last night’s speech was just one speech, given time one suspects that the real Donald Trump will return before long, indeed probably sooner rather than later, and that this “regrets, I’ve had a few….” moment will be gone and forgotten.

The other question, of course, is whether any effort to try to rebrand Donald Trump can possibly succeed in the roughly eighty days before Election Day, and even less time before early and absentee voting begins in a large number of states across the nation, including swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. The Donald Trump we have come to know, on the other hand, has developed his reputation not just over the past fourteen months that he’s been a candidate for President, but over the thirty-odd years that he has been a presence in the national media. Not only is it hard to believe that a few days with new advisers is going to change who Donald Trump is, it’s hard to believe that any kind of reboot is going to do very much to change public perceptions of who Trump is as a person as a candidate. This is especially true given the fact that the Clinton campaign and its supporters have spent the better part of the summer on an ad campaign designed to define Donald Trump in the eyes of voters. When Barack  Obama’s campaign did this to Mitt Romney in 2012, it created an image that Romney was unable to fully escape no matter how hard he tried. In addition to the fact that he is likely to slip back to his old ways sooner rather than later, the extent to which Trump has already been defined by his own actions is likely to have a bigger influence on the campaign than a single speech.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. Facebones says:

    This “pivot” will last for as long as it takes for Trump to pry his cell phone out of Kellyanne Conway’s hands.

    And look for that “I will always tell the truth” line in about a thousand attack ads.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Kellyanne Conway wrote that line…not Trump. So is it genuine? I think we all can guess.

    I think the far bigger story is the Trump campaigns deep connection to Russia, which may be about to explode in their faces.

    “I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia.”

    “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?”

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    Steve M. has an interesting take on this subject this morning. http://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2016/08/trump-apology-anchor-left-pivot-right.html

  4. Jen says:

    The combination of adding Conway and Bannon is fascinating. What comes out of Trump’s mouth is going to be dependent upon who had the last go at the speech before it loaded into the teleprompter.

    Conway is a pollster and I think it still remains to be seen if she can manage a national campaign–those aren’t necessarily transferable skills.

    Oh, and according to The Hill, Manafort just resigned from the campaign.

  5. CSK says:

    Kellyanne Conway may well have written that line, but I’m wondering how it got past Bannon and how they got Trump to utter it.

    It’s my understanding that Bannon wants Trump to double down on being Trump, i.e., louder, crazier, more vulgar, racist, misogynist, and proudly devoid of even the most rudimentary knowledge of foreign or domestic policy.

    Conway, if she indeed wrote this line, seems to want the opposite, i.e., a kinder, gentler Trump, or at least a crude simulacrum of one.

    Since Bannon and Conway appear to be heading up the Trump operation now, with Manafort off on the sidelines counting his rubles, does this mean that Bannon and Conway will end up going for one another’s jugulars, thus insuring yet another “campaign upheaval”?

    Is Alex Jones waiting in the wings?

  6. Bob@Youngstown says:

    For what it’s worth, let’s accept the Joe Scarborough theme this morning that Trump’s actions since he announced he was running has all been an “act”, that the Trump that he and Donnie Deutsch (who agreed) have known for decades is not the loud, bombastic, hyperbolic, conspiracy-driven person that has been on parade for the past 15 months.

    But rewind 8 years ago to Trump’s loud, bombastic, hyperbolic, conspiracy-driven inference that Obama is not a legitimate president because he was not a natural citizen, and more so that he had forged his birth documents.

    No, the Trump that you have seen these past months is the real actual Trump, no “act” was being on. It is consistent with his public persona. If there is any “pivot” – that will be the “act”

  7. Moosebreath says:

    So Trump can read a speech well off a teleprompter. Isn’t that exactly what many of Trump supporters said was Obama’s prime talent? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Pivot? Let’s see …

    (1) Roger Ailes coming on board (((check)))
    (2) Stephen Bannon on board (((check)))
    (3) Trump issues insincere “I’m sorry if anyone was hurt by my offensive statements” (((check)))
    (4) Trump issues phony “I’ll never lie to you” statement (((check)))

    Nope, there will be no pivot.

  9. Mikey says:

    “Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing,” Mr. Trump said. “I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it.”
    The crowd gathered at a convention center here responded by chanting Mr. Trump’s name, and he gave them a thumbs-up.
    “And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain,” Mr. Trump added.

    “I’m so sorry…I just get so angry sometimes…I promise I’ll never hit you again.”

  10. C. Clavin says:

    Trump is out with his first ad…and it complains of a rigged voting system.
    This, I think is extremely problematic.
    Here is a guy who is, by the analysis of two forecasters who are historically extremely accurate, losing badly.
    And he is already trying to convince his supporters not to see the election as legitimate.
    This portends major issues for our democracy.
    It is irresponsible, and dangerous.
    Unfortunately, I do not know how you stop it.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting commentary from The New Republic:

    Trump created this liability for himself over the course of a year, so sitting down and reading the Constitution—all 4,453 words of it, or less than a half hour of reading time—would only be the first step toward assuring skeptics and critics that he’s intent on safeguarding the country’s laws and traditions. But whether it’s because he’s irremediably lazy, or that he believes this kind of ignorance allows him to pander to scared, authoritarian racists without a filter, he is unwilling to do it. He would rather keep his crowds big and his polls bad. Even if it means allowing Hillary Clinton to shove him into a buzzsaw in front of a huge TV audience a few weeks from now.

  12. CSK says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Perhaps he’ll suggest to his “Second Amendment people” that they address the problem of the “rigged election”.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    Doh…Manafort has resigned.

  14. SenyorDave says:

    When you read about the people who are now running Trump’s campaign, they seem like a bunch of fascists who would prefer to take over the country by a legitimate election, but if that doesn’t work another form of takeover wouldn’t bother them. I think these people are overtly anti-American, and I hope that this narrative comes into play.

    I am so glad I have no family or good friends that are for Trump. At this point I’m not sure I would want to associate with anyone is for him (it is personal for me since my wife has a movement disorder and I always think of that POS mocking the reporter with the disability – I sometimes think that piece of video should be attached to at the end of every Hillary ad with the voice over saying “What sort of man mocks a person’s disability?).

  15. C. Clavin says:
  16. Andrew says:

    If we all remember when President Obama ran in 2008, and 2012, his connections to Ayers, and other characters was brought front and center. Guilty by association for simply working around, or going to church with Rev. Wright. His character was put through the ringer due to where he grew up, who is parents were (Anyone remember the book that questioned the president’s actual father?) what ties he may have for religious views, political views, social views, and experience.

    Basically, to get to the point, Trump is surrounding himself with people with ties to Russia, ties to sexual harassment, tabloid propaganda. On Doug’s point, I also can not agree this one speech from one of Mr. Trump’s newest advisers will do much to change his image. Especially when Trump himself is so stubborn about making sure he is the center of attention, no matter what sort of attention it is. And now his advisers he brought on board.

  17. CSK says:

    So Manafort has resigned, or, to put it more accurately, been forced out. I wonder if he’ll go on a vengeance trip and reveal that Trump is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Russian bankers. Or leak the tax returns.

  18. Jen says:
  19. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    Well, the Trumpkins are thrilled that Trump has dumped Manafort, but it’s not because of these allegations. They’re happy because…are you ready…Manafort was “too establishment.”

  20. Thor thormussen says:

    So Trump can read a speech well off a teleprompter. Isn’t that exactly what many of Trump supporters said was Obama’s prime talent? Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

    No, he can’t. He stumbles with it all the time. He can sometimes read from a teleprompter competently. Sometimes.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    “I’m so sorry…I just get so angry sometimes…I promise I’ll never hit you again.”

    No, you’re giving him too much credit.

    He did not say he was sorry. He did not explain, excuse, or justify himself. He did not promise not to do it again.

    There is no apology there
    . What he said was that he regrets doing it. Sociopaths regret doing things, too — when they get caught and it causes them inconvenience. There is a wide gulf between “I regret having done that” and actual contrition.

    (And I’m surprised that nobody else is commenting on the lack of actual apology, which even the Post story mentions…)

  22. charon says:

    @CSK:

    Re Manafort -maybe still unofficially on team Trump, too toxic for official because of the foreign lobbying and Ukraine stuff.

    From the comments at NOmoremister:

    http://nomoremister.blogspot.com/2016/08/trump-apology-anchor-left-pivot-right.html?showComment=1471623530634#c4615417641621039121 .

    the last comment posted 12:18, Feud Turgeidson

  23. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: I chose that analogy because his non-apology basically amounted to that of an abuser to the abused–meaningless mouthing of words that won’t result in any actual change in behavior.

  24. CSK says:

    Of course it was a non-apology. But what’s even more interesting is that up until he made it, he and his supporters always vigorously maintained that he never said nor did anything wrong. So what, therefore, was the purpose behind even a non-apology, if he had nothing for which to apologize?

    These are the Trumpkin articles of faith:

    1. He was viciously attacked by Megyn Kelly. He responded, but never said a word about menstruation.

    2. He never made fun of Serge Kovaleski’s disability. That’s a total lie. He was just goofing around with the audience.

    3. He never suggested Carly Fiorina was ugly. He was speaking metaphorically of her as a potential head of state.

    4. He never made fun of Heidi Cruz’s looks, nor questioned her sanity.

    5. Yes, it’s true he accused Ted Cruz of having five mistresses, but it has to be true because the National Enquirer said so.

    The only people more loathsome than Trump are his fans.

  25. CSK says:

    By the way, I assume everyone’s seen the pics of the naked Donald Trump statues that suddenly popped up (so to speak) in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and a few other cities.

    Fat, flabby, no testicles, and a penis the size of a thimble. He must be having a stroke.

  26. Mikey says:

    @CSK: NYC Parks removed the one there and then said this:

    NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @Mikey: Whoever writing that MUST have done so tongue firmly in cheek….

    Well played, sir. Well played.

  28. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    “Naked Donald Trump” is not something I *ever* want to look at, even in statue form.

  29. Andrew says:

    This has to be one of the better political stunts in a long time. The Trump micro-penis statue. Usually it is more along the lines of a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

    You may be a redneck if you think mock lynching a political figure is a creative way of protest.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT:

    There is no apology there. What he said was that he regrets doing it.

    That’s true, but the definition of “it” here is “that some people took offence.” Or that he regretted that it proved to be a distraction. There was no actual admission that he had said anything wrong.

  31. grumpy realist says:

    @grumpy realist: (P.S. Now the question is: what did Trump do to piss off the NYC Parks Commissioner?)

  32. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Speaking of piss-related matters, the Mannekin Pis statue in Brussels is considerably better endowed than is the Donaldus Erectus in New York.

  33. grumpy realist says:

    Article in NYT about Trump’s support in West Virginia.

    I want to slap some of these people across the face. Honestly. They’re blaming shifts in the energy economy on President Obama, when they should be yelling at the natural gas companies.

  34. Andrew says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Less regulation on big business, get government out of the way!!
    What do you mean Obama is not helping us out in regards to our jobs?!! Worst president ever!!

    cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance
    nounPSYCHOLOGY
    the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.