With General Election in Sight, Trump’s Campaign Turns Traditional

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GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaigns In Indianapolis
A whole new Donald?Photo: Scott Olson/2016 Getty Images

In an interview with the New York Times just after his sweeping victory in New York, Donald Trump came off, if not awed, at least a little gratified. “You see your name, and it says ‘president of the United States’ on a nicely printed form,” he said. “It does sort of hit you a little bit differently. Honestly, it’s a great honor.” Perhaps this Donald Trump is, as the Times suggests, the temporary result of a tough two weeks fighting for his home state. But perhaps it’s the Trump that Paul Manafort — the veteran GOP strategist newly in charge of Trump’s campaign — is angling to highlight with new tactics. 

These tactics include hiring a speechwriter — until now Trump has given only one prepared speech — and scheduling a speech on foreign affairs for April 27 in Washington, which Trump will deliver using teleprompters. According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump has even set a pair up in his office to practice. More policy speeches are reportedly in the works, including one to do with jobs, although Trump will stick to his traditional free-form methods at rallies (“Can you imagine how upset my supporters would be after waiting for hours?”).

They also involve spending more money. Trump has only spent about $40 million so far, but he’s reportedly committed to spending at least $20 million in the next two months. Part of that funding will go toward on-the-ground operatives in crucial states — something in which the formerly bare-bones Trump campaign has not previously invested. Manafort recently hired Tim Clark, a Sacramento-based GOP strategist, as Trump’s California state director; Trump must walk away from California with a good portion of the state’s 172 delegates to stay on target.

Under Manafort, Trump is also scaling back media appearances. One of his advisers told WSJ that the new goal is for Trump, à la Beyoncé, “to be less exposed and to control media impressions in order for the message to be more powerful.”

All of this is designed to make Trump palatable to the rest of the Republican Party, which he continues to call “a disgusting rigged system.” But that hasn’t stopped his campaign from setting up an office in Washington, D.C., and bringing on a team of lobbyists to attempt to repair relationships with party leaders. If Trump can combine repeated wins with sway amongst delegates, he could easily carry a contested convention. Indeed, that seems to be Manafort’s strategy: “to create so much distance in the total number of votes and delegates between them that the inevitability of the Trump candidacy will be powerful.”

Trump sees the wisdom behind this tack. “The campaign is evolving, and so am I,” he said. “I’ll be more effective and more disciplined. I’m not going to blow it.” But in his first post–New York rally appearance on Wednesday, Trump seemed like his old belligerent self, throwing out “Lyin’ Ted’s” and “Crooked Hillary’s” with abandon and taunting protestors as they were ejected. “We’re not going to be so politically correct,” he told the Indianapolis crowd.

With his new team employing tried-and-true methods to win Trump delegates and, ultimately, the Republican nomination, Trump will need to walk a fine line between the populist principles that have gained him a massive following and the “crooked” tactics that will help him win.