Presidential pivot? Trump tries on new(ish) style

April 20, 2016

Donald Trump takes the stage after winning the Republican primary in New York. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (April 19, 2016)

The most striking example of Donald Trump’s tentative steps toward gravitas came in his New York primary victory speech, when “Lyin’ Ted” became “Senator Cruz.”

Trump, a real estate developer and former television reality star, has employed vulgarity, racial insults, sexist comments and schoolyard taunts as he casually elbowed out better-known competitors to lead the race for the 2016 Republican nomination.

The newfound restraint displayed in Tuesday night’s conciseĀ  speech coincides with Trump’s hiring of experienced campaign advisers and could help as he reaches out to establishment Republicans to secure the support he will need at the party’s nominating convention in July, and beyond.

The candidate has fences to mend after a free-wheeling primary campaign that upended Republican Party expectations.

Trump belittled early favorite Jeb Bush as “low energy” and dismissed U.S. Senator Marco Rubio as “little Marco” – knicknames that stuck like burrs to his former rivals. He decried some illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and said Muslims should be temporarily banned from entering the country. There was also a special place in the candidate’s lexicon for some women: fat pigs, dogs and slobs.

As the New York billionaire attained the once-unthinkable mantle of Republican front-runner, the admonitions began from his wife, Melania, “Darling, be more presidential.”

Trump joked at rallies that being presidential was boring.

The jollity stopped when Cruz, who became “Lyin’ Ted” as he rose in opinion polls, trounced him in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary and deftly used state party rules to install his own supporters as delegates, even in states won by Trump.

Under the apparent tutelage of veteran Republican delegate strategist Paul Manafort, Trump began to woo “the system” even as he criticized it. He became less active, and less personal, on Twitter and aired his views in the ultimate Republican establishment venue: the Wall Street Journal.

Trump began reading from notes more frequently at rallies, which typically featured ad-libbed, rambling addresses.

Rather than accusing Cruz of “stealing” delegates, he started attacking the Republican allocation system as rigged. The Sunday morning television news shows he had blanketed for months suddenly were bereft of the man who self-identified as “great for ratings.”

Last week, Trump, who is unpopular with women voters, ceded center stage to his family at a CNN town hall in which his businesswoman daughter, Ivanka Trump, portrayed her father as a man who “believes in inspiring women, empowering women.”

Even his hair got more ruly, tamed by Manafort “mousse,” David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, joked Tuesday night on CNN.

Trump’s advisers say the tweaks in the candidate’s style are part of a natural evolution in the campaign.

“I think what we’re seeing is him become a general election candidate,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on CNN on Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, he’s the one that makes the ultimate decisions and so far the decisions he’s made have worked for him,” she said. “I don’t think he’s going to veer too far off of that.”

Asked if Trump’s less-harsh tone means no more “Lyin’ Ted” taunts, Sanders hedged her bets. “My guess is it’ll still pop up from time to time,” she said.

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