The same cannot be said of Paul Manafort, Trump’s new inside man, who confided to Republican bigwigs this week something we’ve all suspected to be true from the start — that the Donald Trump who has connected with millions of disaffected voters with his take-my-country-back-damn-it campaign is really just an act.
As Manafort described it, Trump’s public persona is a “part” Trump has been playing on the stump that will soon change in a way that establishment Republicans will like very much.
“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image for that purpose,” Manafort said.
Because this is politics, the audio was immediately leaked and Manafort quickly went to CNN to clarify what he really meant by “the part” Trump is playing.
“Nowhere was I talking about there being a different Donald Trump,” he said on Sunday’s “New Day.”
The problem that admission creates for current Trump supporters is clear. From the start, the core attribute that Trump fans have admired has been his ability to say what “everybody” is really thinking. Whether it’s the beautiful wall, or China killing us on trade, or the fact that NAFTA wasn’t really so great after all, Trump tells it like it is, I hear again and again. But it turns out he may just be saying what he thinks everybody wants to hear, just like all of the politicians Trump supporters want to send a message to in November.
Manafort also told CNN that while Trump’s venues may change, his positions never will. Implied in that statement is that Trump is honest, is consistent, is authentic. But throughout the campaign, anyone watching closely has seen Trump’s positions change on core issues. So often it seems, he’s taking a self-guided tour of all of the things he could think about an issue.
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His position on abortion has changed completely since 1999, when he said he was “pro-choice in every respect” to today’s “very pro-life” position. A change of heart on abortion over the course of 17 years is neither unusual or disqualifying. But a change of position on abortion five times over three days, as Trump managed at the end of March, is a different story. Trump’s story changed again and again, and it was hard not to notice his thoughts on the issue changed as his audience did.
The woman should be punished, no the doctor should. He’s “very pro-life,” he told a Republican debate, but he “absolutely” wants to change the RNC platform on abortion, he told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. More time has meant more positions for Trump on abortion.
He just needed a few hours for two positions on transgender bathrooms. Last Thursday, he told the “Today” show that North Carolina should not change a controversial law designating what restrooms transgender people could use. The state should “leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is,” he said.
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But speaking later in the day with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, he preferred another option. “I think that local communities and states should make the decision,” he went on to say. “And I feel very strongly about that.”
It’s true social issues can be tricky terrain for new politicians, so how about deficit reduction? At the end of March, Trump told Bob Woodward of the Washington Post he’d be able to eliminate the nation’s $19 trillion debt “fairly quickly,”
likely over a period of eight years. And without increasing taxes. Three weeks later, he told Fortune the country could pay off “a percentage” of the debt — within 10 years, not eight, and not the entire amount. “It depends on how aggressive you want to be. I’d rather not be so aggressive.”
Since Trump launched his campaign, he has also had
wildly shifting positions
on the appropriate use of torture, the fate of Syrian refugees, and whether or not to expand or eliminate skilled worker visas.
Voters, even Trump voters I believe, can forgive changes in positions. They can even forgive a politician saying one thing during the campaign to get elected and doing another thing in office, as long as those voters are in on the plan.
The Trump voters I’ve interviewed can handle all of that and more from Trump and still stay with him. They trust him and they believe him. But what no voter should tolerate is being taken for a fool.