With the formal resignation of Paul Manafort as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman after he was displaced by former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, you’d figure the “pivot to the center” strategy the old team was reportedly urging on Trump would be gone for the duration, replaced by, well, it’s not clear by what, but you’d figure it would be savage, negative, “authentic,” and designed to wage war on “political correctness” everywhere.
So it’s odd that in Trump’s first speech in the middle of this transition, in Charlotte, he issued an apology — albeit a very vague one — for words he has used in the past that “may have caused personal pain.” That’s a real mouthful, to be sure, even if it falls a bit short of a new leaf being definitively turned. Still, the well-regarded conservative reporter Byron York sees a pattern that indicates a more disciplined and focused candidate, and perhaps even a more positive and inclusive Good Trump, in contrast to the raging and sometimes incoherent Visigoth we are used to and had every reason to expect in the immediate future.
In all, it was perhaps Trump’s most remarkable speech of the campaign — and the third noteworthy effort this week. On Monday, Trump gave a solid speech on his proposals to fight radical Islamic terrorism. On Tuesday, he gave a sharp and focused speech on law and order, coupled with an appeal to black voters. And then Thursday night in Charlotte.
York may be one of the few observers to view Trump’s latest “terrorism” speech, with its call for “extreme vetting” of Muslims, as some sort of new departure for the mogul, and there were some rather obvious problems with his “appeal to black voters” as delivered to a very pale crowd in a very pale suburb of Milwaukee. But it is true the Republican nominee seems newly wedded to prepared texts and teleprompters. What’s less clear is whether this “normalization” of the candidate, if that’s what it is, was in the works before or after the change in campaign management was decided upon and executed.
If the marginally less abrasive Trump approach continues, some will undoubtedly see the fine hand of new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, long known for her ability to smooth the sharper edges from wingnut pols. But these are early days for the “new” Trump campaign and its leadership. For all we (or Byron York) know, the Charlotte speech may be remembered as a moment of calm before a violent storm of wild rhetoric and harshly negative tactics. If Trump does, however, “pivot to the center” at this late date, perhaps Manafort will achieve some retroactive vindication to counter the continuing bad press generated by his relations with a certain large bearlike state that Republicans used to abhor.