After months of waiting like Vladimir and Estragon for Godot, Republican voters finally got what they’ve been waiting for: THE PIVOT™. Trump gave his third solid speech of the week last night. This time, he dropped the line that he should have dropped months ago: he’s sorry. It was smart. And it could change the race.
Here’s what you need to know about THE PIVOT™.
1. It Began With a Brilliant Move on Louisiana. The media have completely ignored major flooding in Louisiana, which has now cost 13 lives and displaced tens of thousands of Americans. Barack Obama has been off golfing. We’re all old enough to remember a time when a president waiting a few hours too long to act publicly meant that he was a racist. But now Trump has taken advantage – he’s showing up in Louisiana today, after announcing last night, “We are one nation. When one state hurts, we all hurt – and we must all work together to lift each other up. Working, building, restoring together.”
2. Trump Apologized. Trump has said some particularly awful things in this race. He’s accused a rival’s wife of being ugly and the rival’s father of conspiring with the murderer of JFK. He’s mocked a disabled reporter and gone soft on the KKK. He’s insulted prisoners of war and a Mexican judge and a Gold Star family. Yesterday, in one line, he sought to end all the hubbub surrounding those issues: “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. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.”
3. Trump Posed Himself As The Practical Change Candidate. He used his speech today to talk about fixing problems. “In the world I come from, if something is broken, you fix it,” he said. He contrasted his own supposed honesty (LOLZ) with Hillary Clinton’s congenital dishonesty (real). This is a good tack from him: everyone knows Hillary is dishonest, and few people believe she has ever solved a problem that didn’t wear a skirt and have sex with Bill Clinton.
THE PIVOT™ needed to happen. It raises two questions. First, is it believable? Second, how long will it last?
First question first: no, it isn’t believable. Trump is a man who says he doesn’t repent before God. I don’t believe that he’s sorry one iota for the terrible things he’s said and done. And his own speech text betrays that Trump thinks that his great sin is honesty. He followed up his apology with this sentence: “But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.” In other words, “Sorry I said those things that hurt your feelings, but they were true, and I’m just too honest for my own good.” Try that argument with your wife next time you accidentally insult her and see how it goes. Trump clearly believes all the terrible things he says.
Second, will THE PIVOT™ last? That’s almost entirely dependent on the polls. The dynamic at Trump HQ today is probably triumphal – he’s moved, and he’s getting more favorable coverage! Behind the scenes, Kellyanne Conway is probably being treated with the same level of respect Paul Manafort originally received when he entered the campaign. Steve Bannon is likely whispering in Trump’s ear that everything he’s doing is working, and he’s a genius.
All that goes down the drain if the polls continue to stagnate or drop. At that point, Bannon will likely begin protecting his own position at Conway’s expense, blaming her for THE PIVOT™ and encouraging Trump to unleash the Full Trump.
THE PIVOT™ is a political calculation. If it works, Trump could be New Trump through Election Day. If it doesn’t, we’re likely to see a reversion to Old Trump, with Kellyanne Conway discarded somewhere along the highway and Steve Bannon riding Trump like Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove.