On Tuesday night, Donald Trump managed to make it a whole news cycle without insulting any ethnic groups or making any of his endorsers embarrassed to associate with him.
Still reeling from the mess he created with a nakedly prejudicial attack on a federal judge, but also celebrating primary victories in a race that no one else is contesting, the presumptive Republican nominee stepped behind a microphone at a golf club in New York and delivered what Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post called “a speech meant for one audience and with one message. The audience was the Republican establishment—led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The message: I get it. I need to do and be better. I can.”
Trump used a teleprompter and adopted a speaking style markedly different from his own. His remarks weren’t without barbs. He attacked Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But he did so in the way that all Republicans attack partisan rivals.
He sounded like… well, like a typical politician.
Now, I don’t actually believe that he can keep up this invented persona. He’s been shooting off his mouth for decades. Throughout this campaign, he’s shown no evidence of possessing the discipline, desire, or self-awareness to avoid offensive bombast.
I expect that he’ll be embarrassing his endorsers again soon.
But watching his speech Tuesday, I realized that he could be in trouble even if I’m underestimating his ability to shape-shift, because the well-behaved Trump who regurgitates words prepared by hired political staffers is, well, boring. And politically correct by design. In other words, he is not only bereft of the very attributes that appealed to a large part of his base—he seems and sounds an awful lot like the very standard-issue pols who they’re ostensibly rebelling against. See for yourself:
It’s hard to imagine that speech holding the attention of the Trump coalition.
Can he retain his core supporters if he sounds like that for the next four months? The folks who are most motivated by, say, trade deals may stick with him, but what about the ones who insist they’re voting Trump, despite various disagreements and misgivings, because they love the fact that he can win while saying whatever he damned well pleases, which they see as a blow against political correctness?
If Trump has to adopt a kinder, gentler persona to win the general election, that whole rationale evaporates. The Trump in the video above isn’t challenging political correctness. The Trump that spoke Tuesday was adhering to political correctness. And he remains inexperienced, unknowledgeable, and saddled with a personal history of bankrupting businesses and making shady donations to politicians.
What if Trump cannot win with the persona he exuded throughout the primaries… but also cannot win if he abandons that persona, for which his supporters fell?