The Trump pivot

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— Word on the street is that Don­ald Trump wants to hire a se­ri­ous cam­paign team and give some se­ri­ous pol­icy speeches — 10 months af­ter his pres­i­den­tial an­nounce­ment and just as he has nearly se­cured the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

A con­sis­tent plu­ral­ity of GOP pri­mary vot­ers has found such es­tab­lish­ment cre­den­tials — a cam­paign with ac­tual con­tent — to be un­nec­es­sary. Trump’s dis­dain for outsiders and his air of au­then­tic­ity have been enough.

But now, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign ad­viser Paul Manafort, Trump will demon­strate “more depth,” show that he is “evolv­ing” and change “the part that he’s been play­ing.” The cam­paign has promised to hire speech­writ­ers and Trump is prac­tic­ing on a teleprompter in his of­fice. “At some point,” says Trump, “I’m go­ing to be so pres­i­den­tial that you peo­ple will be so bored.”

In the Trump pivot, he may move right, or left, or some in­com­pre­hen­si­ble com­bi­na­tion of the two. (How many sup­port­ers of Planned Par­ent­hood have the im­me­di­ate in­stinct to pun­ish women who have abor­tions?) Lack­ing a po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, the re­ac­tions of any given day are un­cer­tain. Trump is the quan­tum can­di­date: You can know his po­si­tion on an is­sue, or the date on a cal­en­dar, but it is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict both at once.

Any re­brand­ing ef­fort must hon­estly con­front the prob­lems of the brand. Trump has a dis­ap­proval rat­ing of 70 per­cent among women and the high­est over­all dis­ap­proval rat­ing recorded by Gallup since it be­gan track­ing this mea­sure in 1992. Among vot­ers 18 to 24, Trump loses to Hil­lary Clin­ton (who is no­to­ri­ously weak among younger vot­ers) by 25 points. A re­cent poll found Trump with 11 per­cent sup­port among Lati­nos, the low­est sup­port for a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date since polls be­gan track­ing Latino votes. In Florida — which was won by Jeb and Ge­orge W. Bush as gov­er­nor and president — Trump is los­ing to Clin­ton among His­panic vot­ers by 51 points. Fifty-one points.

A re­cov­ery from these prob­lems would re­quire spec­tac­u­lar and sus­tained po­lit­i­cal skills that Trump has never demon­strated. Trump has only shown one skill: dis­play­ing the Trump per­sona in public. His cam­paign is crip­pled by a tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by Thomas Edison — the abil­ity to record the hu­man voice. Trump can’t be the can­di­date who didn’t call for the sys­tem­atic ex­clu­sion of Mus­lims at the bor­der; the can­di­date who didn’t call for the mass ex­pul­sion of 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented work­ers; the can­di­date who didn’t call women bim­bos and fat pigs and at­tack the looks of an op­po­nent’s wife.

Trump has spent years pur­posely cul­ti­vat­ing an im­age that is misog­y­nist and “po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect” on racial is­sues. There are lim­its to a speech­writer’s abil­ity to make his cruel and cold creed seem warm and life­like — as there are lim­its to the taxi­der­mist’s art.

In fact, Trump has been so vit­ri­olic, so ir­re­spon­si­ble, so far over the line, that he would need a com­men­su­rate re­pu­di­a­tion of his pre­vi­ous views in or­der to be per­sua­sive. He would need to re­verse him­self on im­mi­gra­tion, on re­li­gious bias and on a na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy con­sist­ing of war crimes. Re­brand­ing Trump would re­quire the re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump­ism, thus un­der­min­ing the ap­peal of au­then­tic­ity at the heart of his can­di­dacy.

GOP lead­ers such as Repub­li­can Na­tional Committee Chair­man Reince Priebus are try­ing to pre­tend this is a nor­mal po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, in which the party should for­get its dis­agree­ments and unite against the Demo­crat. “We can’t win,” he says, “un­less we rally around who­ever be­comes our nom­i­nee.” This is a dan­ger­ous delu­sion. If Trump is cho­sen in Cleve­land, the Repub­li­can Party is headed to­ward elec­toral dis­as­ter, all the way down the ticket. Many if not most Repub­li­can can­di­dates at the state and lo­cal level would need to run in re­volt against their party’s pres­i­den­tial pick.

It was un­der Priebus’ lead­er­ship that the 2012 Repub­li­can “au­topsy” was pro­duced, a doc­u­ment call­ing for ac­cel­er­ated out­reach to women, the young and Latino vot­ers. Trump rep­re­sents the re­ver­sal of ev­ery­thing Priebus had planned for the Repub­li­can fu­ture. If Priebus ends up bless­ing the Trump nom­i­na­tion, the re­sults would reach far be­yond 2016. It would turn the sins of Trump into the sins of the GOP. And Priebus would go down as the head of the party who squan­dered the legacy of Lin­coln, the legacy of Rea­gan, in a squalid and hope­less po­lit­i­cal ef­fort.

If Trump wins in Cleve­land, Priebus should think be­yond the cur­rent elec­tion and demon­strate the ex­is­tence of a party bet­ter than its nom­i­nee. The head of the RNC should re­sign, rather than be com­plicit as his party is de­filed.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@ wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON

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