It will be a great irony if, just as the political establishment gave up hope that Trump could turn things around, he actually started to do it. Still, it will take far more evidence before Wednesday’s speech can be considered a genuine turning point for Trump’s faltering effort.
Curious about who attends a Trump policy address, I lingered after he left the SoHo ballroom to speak to some of those who had cheered the speech from the rows in front of the media, cordoned off with a velvet rope. Would they be policy experts, wealthy donors, local political operatives? A bearded man named Guy Razzino, who wore a black Vietnam Era Veteran cap and a red-white-and-blue pin in the shape of a cross, told me he was a limousine driver and proprietor of two pro-Trump blogs who’d been invited to the speech by a friend affiliated with the campaign.
Razzino approved of Trump’s message. “We need to have the right person in charge of the presidency,” he said. “We can’t have someone who’s faithful to Obama, who never should have been president in the first place when it’s a known fact he was born in Kenya.”
A local reporter stepped in to ask Razzino what he thought of the Trump campaign. “Does it bother you that he only has $1.3 million in his campaign account?” he asked.
Razzino shrugged and said he trusted Trump to figure it out. “He reminds me of my older brother, who’s smarter than me, who went to college and got all those degrees,” he said.
The last few months have featured a very public battle between the id and superego of Donald J. Trump. On one side is his instinct to be outrageous, to play to the crowd, to cause constant chaos and commotion; this instinct is encouraged by the crowds he riles up at his public appearances. On the other are the many advisers—including Priebus, numerous GOP lawmakers, Trump’s own children, and his chief strategist, Paul Manafort—who have been telling him for a while that he’s got to tone it down if he wants to compete in a general election.
Organizationally, this tension has been reflected in the campaign’s flaming turf battles, which pitted Lewandowski against Manafort. Lewandowski’s slogan was “Let Trump Be Trump,” which, taken at face value, left little for the campaign to do beyond escorting the candidate from place to place. Manafort, an old Washington hand with a history of lobbying for dictators, wanted to do things the conventional way, but had been continually stymied by Lewandowski since he was brought on in March.
What with all the turmoil, apparently not much else was getting done. Trump did not spend the weeks after becoming the presumptive nominee studying up on policy or releasing white papers. He has not spent it beefing up his operation by putting staff in swing states or opening campaign offices or expanding his bare-bones headquarters in New York. He has not spent it fundraising—the task of asking for money is one he reportedly finds distasteful; until this week people who had signed up to receive emails from his campaign were not routinely asked to donate to it, a virtually effortless way the campaign could have brought in a steady stream of cash.