The New Old Trump

It was the first day of the new Donald Trump campaign for president, the day after he surprised everyone and named Steve Bannon as the man who would work with him to present to America the real Donald Trump, the Donald Trump who would win the presidency easily in November. This was an odd choice – Bannon knows nothing about running a presidential campaign – he’s the editor of Breitbart News, the angry white nationalist conspiracy website.

Breitbart News also wants almost every Republican now in office to resign in disgrace immediately, but now they may change their tune – Trump needs at least a few establishment Republicans to stick with him. Every day one or two more of them bail out. That has to stop. There are reports that Bannon has been phoning Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and such people, telling them no hard feelings – he’ll be a good boy now. They want a Republican president, don’t they? Trump is as close to Republican as they’re going to get. Stick with him and Breitbart News will hold off on ruining your career, for now. Hillary loses. Everyone wins. This is incentive mixed with deadly threat. Bannon many have read Trump’s famous book on the “art” of the deal.

That may or may not be happening. That’s not what the public sees, or is meant to see. The public is supposed to finally see the real Trump, not the one advised and controlled by people who never really understood him at all. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green reported on that:

Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription – which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee.

“The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.”

Trump was frustrated by [senior adviser Paul] Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump:

“It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent is a bit skeptical:

What’s immediately striking about this is the campaign’s apparent idea that the “inner Trump” has somehow been contained since the end of the GOP primaries. The entire GOP convention represented a choreographed spectacle of inner Trumpism, from the angry chants of “lock her up” to Trump’s rage-and-hate acceptance speech, which relied on exaggerations, distortions, and lies to paint a dystopian portrait of America as seen through the very darkest lens Trumpism has to offer. Since then, the inner Trump has roared forth constantly, most prominently in his sustained battle with the Khan family. The idea that Trump had abandoned or toned down his basic themes and messages is daft. If anything the big story of this race has been that he stuck to them, further alienating the very voter groups he needs in the general election.

Sargent is also skeptical that this is a “change” election that Trump can win simply by being “anti-establishment” and the “candidate of change” and so on:

It’s true that some polls have shown that Trump, rather than Clinton, is seen as the one who would shake up Washington. It’s also true that Hillary Clinton may be perceived as belonging to an elite system that has let down American workers. It would be nice if she spent more time emphasizing her plans for political reform, particularly the goals of improving voting access and getting big money out of politics.

But one of the under-covered stories of this race is that the American people may be rejecting the particular brand of “change” and “disruption” that Trump is offering (to the degree that he actually has an agenda at all). A recent Pew poll found that 77 percent of voters say Trump would change how Washington works, while only 45 percent say that about Clinton. But here’s the rub: Of that 77 percent, more voters said Trump would change things for the worse, by 44-33.

People seem to know that not all “change” is good:

At this point, it’s very hard to imagine that there are many voters who don’t think that Trump would disrupt the system and shake it up. He has vowed to deport millions, build a massive wall on the border, temporarily ban Muslims from entry to the U.S., and start trade wars with China. These policies are clear, vivid, and very simple to grasp. Indeed, their vividness and simplicity is precisely what allowed him to break out during the primaries. But that clarity is now working against him: Majorities have heard and fully grasp the story Trump is telling about what supposedly ails America and what he’ll do about it. They are recoiling. If anything, etching these themes and messages in darker, ever more lurid colors will likely further alienate women, college educated whites, young voters, and nonwhites – the very constituencies he needs to improve among if he is going to turn things around.

 Oops. That also won’t do, and that might explain this:

For the first time since declaring his presidential run, Republican Donald Trump acknowledged that his caustic comments may have caused people pain, saying that he regrets some of what he’s said “in the heat of debate.”

A day after announcing a campaign shake-up and as he trails in the polls, the GOP nominee said that he recognized that his comments – which have angered minorities and alienated large swaths of the general election electorate – may have been ill-advised.

“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,” the GOP nominee, reading from prepared text, said at a rally in Charlotte, N.C. “And believe it or not, I regret it – and I do regret it – particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

But then he added a caveat:

He added that, “Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.” As the crowd cheered, Trump pledged to “always tell you the truth.”

That was curious. This crowd may have cheered because they thought they heard him say he’ll keep angering minorities and alienating large swaths of the general election electorate, telling the truth – political correctness be damned – just after he said he regrets ever doing that. Perhaps the initial apology was for the general public and the qualifying comment for his base, but that’s a tricky business. The base has to pretend he didn’t say that first part. The general public has to be pleased and move on before they notice his implicit reversal. The process of winning a general election while making your base happy is a tricky business.

What is the strategy here? Chuck Todd’s MSNBC First Read crew thinks it may be this:

There is one strategic way it makes sense: Team Trump views the 2016 presidential contest as a race to 40 percent. Under that scenario, you somehow assume that Libertarian Gary Johnson will get more than 15 percent of the popular vote, and that the Green Party’s Jill Stein will get more than 5 percent. And then you make a play for the base to carry you across the finish line.

Of course, there’s a problem with this base play: If the 2016 presidential race is a contest to 40 percent, well, Hillary Clinton probably gets there first, especially with Trump’s percentage currently sitting in the 30s in many key states. And it’s doubtful that Johnson and Stein will get a combined 20 percent-plus of the vote; it will likely be half of that if not less…

Trump had two ways to go: One, try to broaden his appeal by changing his message and approach. Or two, double down on everything that’s gotten him this far. Trump has chosen Door No. 2.

That may not be wise, as Sargent notes here:

For some time now, it’s been a running joke among political junkies that there might not be enough blue collar white men in America to elect Donald Trump president. The basic idea has been to mock Trump’s apparent calculation that he can sail into the White House simply by unleashing the power of backlash among this constituency with his chest-thumping ethno-nationalism.

But now it turns out that this might literally be true. Based on how this campaign has gone so far, there really might not be enough blue collar white men in America to elect Trump president, even if all of them come out to vote.

That’s the actual finding of a new analysis conducted by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution.

Sargent refers to Jeremy Peters’ New York Times item on this and gives a brief summary of the detailed numbers:

Peters concludes that a number of recent polls suggest that among white men, Trump is either running even with or below the margins that Mitt Romney racked up in 2012.

Given that Trump is alienating nonwhites and women to an untold degree Trump is under even more pressure to do well among white men. Yet when it comes to that constituency, Peters notes, Trump is “showing surprising signs of weakness that could foreclose his only remaining path to victory in November.”

Trump is also alienating college educated whites – men included – which is one reason why he’s falling short among white men overall. That puts more pressure still on him to run up the score among non-college white men, which he and his new campaign chief, Stephen Bannon, appear to be hoping to do, judging by the new, scorched earth nationalist strategy they are planning.

The New York Times piece makes that clear in this passage:

William H. Frey, a demographics expert with the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, conducted several simulations that tried to determine how much the turnout among white men without college educations would have to increase for Mr. Trump to win. He used the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of registered voters that had Mrs. Clinton beating Mr. Trump in a nationwide two-way race, 50 percent to 42 percent. It was among the better polls for Mr. Trump lately.

Mr. Frey tested different turnout assumptions, including improbably optimistic ones, like if 99 percent of white, non-college-educated men turned out to vote. None of the chain of events produced a Trump victory.

In fact, even if virtually all of the white, non-college-educated men eligible to vote did so, Mr. Frey found, Mrs. Clinton would still win the popular vote by 1.1 million.

Sargent:

In other words, assuming the spreads in the recent Post/ABC poll hold, if pretty much every single blue collar white male in America turns out to vote on Election Day, Trump would still fall well short of winning.

The Post/ABC poll found that Trump is dominating among non-college whites (58-33) and particularly among non-college white men (67-25). But that’s offset by Clinton’s advantage among college educated whites, and the fact that she keeps it closer among non-college white women than this spread was in 2012.

Given that, Sargent made a phone call:

I checked in with Frey for some more information about his simulation. He told me that he had assumed that 2012 level turnout levels (based on census data) would remain constant among all other voter groups in 2016 – using eligible voting-age adults – and only inflated turnout among non-college white men, to 99 percent. Under that scenario, Trump still loses, mainly because he’s getting swamped among other voter groups, and is losing among college educated whites.

“If the voting on Election Day is in line with the Washington Post poll, even if all non-college white men show up on Election Day to vote, it would be difficult for Trump to win,” Frey told me.

To make this worse for Trump, Frey added, it is far-fetched to begin with to assume that non-college white men will turn out at larger rates than college-educated whites overall will. The opposite is more likely to be the case, Frey said.

“And this doesn’t even play around with the possibility that college educated white women may turn out in larger numbers than usual in this election,” Frey added. That obviously could happen with a woman as the Democratic nominee.

And then there’s Nate Silver:

With almost two-thirds of voters holding an unfavorable view of Trump, it’s not clear how many more people he can rally to his side without a big change in tone and message. But Trump and his acolytes seem to be in profound denial about the narrowness of their appeal.

So, there are not enough angry blue collar white men in America to elect Trump president even if every single one of them comes out to vote for the new “inner” Trump, which is actually the old Trump set free to be all that he can be.

That’s not enough, and the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh explains why:

Throughout the campaign, a number of observers on the left and the right have suggested that Trump practices a kind of white-identity politics that may be indistinguishable from racism. He was reluctant, earlier this year, to disavow the support of David Duke; he is popular among some white nationalists; and he has had to defend himself against accusations of anti-Semitism. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, sent a memo to his staff about Trump, assuring them that it is “entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist.” Even Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, who endorses Trump, said that Trump’s criticism of a judge was “sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

But what’s surprising about Trump’s strategy of racial provocation is that African-Americans have played a relatively small role in it. In his campaign-announcement speech, fourteen long months ago, he set the tone for much of his campaign when he suggested that Mexico was sending its least desirable citizens across the border. (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) And the judge he criticized was Gonzalo Curiel, who he suggested was biased against him because Curiel’s parents are from Mexico. (“This judge is of Mexican heritage – I’m building a wall,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper, in reference to his plan to fortify the Mexican border.) When people call Trump racist, they are often thinking primarily of incidents like these, in which he has singled out Latino immigrants and their descendants.

They are often thinking, too, about Trump’s series of remarks about Muslims, including his call – which he seems to have modified – for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Or, for that matter, his portrayal of China as a menacing threat; during a rally in Iowa last year, he adopted a clipped accent to impersonate negotiators from Japan and China; he imagined them saying, “We want deal!” In these cases, Trump is seeking to protect an American “we” from an invading “they”- the kind of language that would once have drawn accusations of nativism and xenophobia instead. But these days a wide range of prejudices are commonly subsumed within the expansive term “racism”; you might call a politician “racist” without meaning (at least not exclusively, or even primarily) that he is anti-black.

That may be a distinction without a difference, as lawyers like to say. To some races he is actively and inventively hostile. To blacks he is indifferent. Is it better to be attacked for your race/religion/origins or better to be ignored? The result is the same either way, but this wasn’t always so:

When it comes to African-Americans, Trump has a long and sometimes grim history. In the nineteen-seventies, he was sued by the Justice Department for discriminating against black tenants. In 1989, after five black and Latino boys were arrested for a horrific attack on a jogger in Central Park, Trump published a pro-death-penalty advertisement in the New York Daily News. (Trump also criticized the city’s forty-one-million-dollar settlement with the five, who were convicted and then, more than a decade later, exonerated.) And then there were his demands, in 2011, that Obama produce his birth certificate, to prove he was born in America. (Birtherism is often described as a species of anti-black racism, though of course it is inspired by the fantasy that our cosmopolitan President is not really African-American.) And, last year, Trump retweeted an image showing bogus crime statistics that suggested African-Americans kill many more whites than is actually the case.

Trump is only indifferent to African-Americans at the moment, except for this:

In December, he criticized Justice Antonin Scalia, who had suggested, during a hearing, that affirmative action might harm some African-American students by steering them toward colleges that are “too fast for them” when they might be better off at “a less advanced school – a slower-track school.” Trump seemed genuinely offended. “I thought his remarks were very tough,” he said. “I don’t like what he said.” During his Convention speech, he mentioned the murder rate in Chicago, but then swiftly pivoted, singling out a group not typically blamed for the city’s violence. “Nearly one hundred and eighty thousand illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” he said.

Was Trump’s criticism of Scalia part of a grand plan to win over African-American voters?

He did quickly pivot to those damned Mexicans who shouldn’t be here, but that’s not much of a marker that will win him the black vote:

Trump has acquired a reputation as a racist. Does it make a difference to black voters that this reputation has mainly to do with things he has said about Muslims and Mexicans, or that he finds ways to talk of African-Americans as part of a threatened “we,” and not part of a threatening “them”? One of the best things about an election is that it provides answers – eventually – to questions such as these. And for Trump, so far, the answer seems to be no, it doesn’t make a difference.

The new unleashed “inner” Trump is the old Trump, but now unable to slam everyone, all the time – there are only so many hours in the day. But at least he did apologize for all the mean things he has said – without specifying a single one of those things. Some of his base will say he was apologizing to blacks, but not to Muslims. Other parts of the base can say he was apologizing to Muslims, but not to those Mexicans who shouldn’t be here, or apologizing to those Mexicans who shouldn’t be here but not to those awful Black Lives Matter folks, or to the Muslims. Take your pick. There’s something for everyone.

Maybe that’s how the new old Trump wins the general election.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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