GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is looking to soften his image to appeal to general election voters, but will his fans let him do that?
Donald Trump supporters were enthusiastic when the Republican presidential frontrunner came to Harrington on Friday, but I wonder how those folks feel about the revelation that the business mogul is just playing them.
It seems that Paul Manafort, Trump’s main strategist, spent part of Thursday trying to smooth over some of the very establishment GOP types that Trump has been railing against for months. At a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Hollywood, Fla., Manafort said the candidate has simply been playing a part.
Well, that isn’t really surprising. Remember the brouhaha a couple months back when it leaked out that Trump told the New York Times editorial board basically the same thing – that his rhetoric about building a wall with Mexico was essentially a tool to whip up a segment of the GOP. And when asked about it on Fox News, Trump reportedly told the network “everything is negotiable.”
In Harrington, Trump repeated a lot of the same inflammatory, hate-filled rhetoric that has vaulted him to the front of the GOP field, much as he did a couple days before at a campaign stop in Maryland. All that was missing were the snake oil vendors hawking their miracle cures outside the main gates.
Trump is a master entertainer and, like all who excel at that craft, has a knack for reading his audience and playing to them. His performances make the legendary P.T. Barnum look like a bit player on a big screen blockbuster.
Many of his followers have latched on to him because of their anger with the political system and the need for change. Democrats and Republicans alike are beyond tired of the constant bickering, gridlock and lack of accountability that are the hallmarks of our elected leaders. People have flocked to Trump because “he says what’s on his mind,” “he tells it like it is” or “he isn’t worried about being politically correct.”
But what if it is all an act?
He has riled up his followers to near frenzy level. Another story line coming out of last week’s RNC meeting in Florida was that some of the state-level delegates who have pledged to Ted Cruz or John Kasich have been getting threats from Trump supporters. And Trump himself has said that there will be riots at the convention in Cleveland if he isn’t the nominee.
Will his followers stay with him if he gets the nomination and turns around and says, “oh yeah, it was all an act. Now I’m going to be more presidential.” What if it turns out he is just like all the other politicians and has merely been telling people what they wanted to hear?
What the establishment wing of the party wants – and what is likely needed to win the general election – is a more toned down Trump. What Trump followers want is the anti-politics as usual mantra that has drawn them to the candidate in the first place. The two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Trump may be looking to pivot to becoming a little less controversial. Whether his followers allow him to do that remains to be seen.