Did Trump just head-fake us into looking the wrong way?

The main narrative the last couple of days is that Donald Trump has essentially delivered the coup de grâce to his moribund campaign.

By demoting Paul Manafort — the guy who was trying to get him to run a serious political campaign and reach beyond his base of Trumpkins — and elevating the man from Bretbart, Trump was “doubling down,” betting it all that the loudmouthed nativist, populist approach that won the primaries for him was the way to go from now to Election Day.

And that, says conventional wisdom, means it’s all over for Donald J. Trump. His campaign is finished. Liberal pundits are celebrating the inevitable.

But what if he’s faking them — all of us — out? What if he’s getting us all to look in one direction — at the disarray in his campaign, underlined this morning with Manafort’s resignation — while he moves in a wholly new direction, one that could lead to victory?

After all, while everyone’s focusing in horror on Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon, the new campaign manager is in fact GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, who is more someone you might characterize as the pro from Dover — someone who can read the numbers and knows how to speak to women, which Trump could use help with, to say the least.

Look away, for a moment, from the apparent train wreck of the Trump campaign, and see what he’s actually doing out there on the campaign trail.

Look at what happened Thursday night: “At a rally in North Carolina, Trump gave a speech that was the sort of speech that presidential candidates give, not the sort that Donald Trump gives.” It involved a teleprompter. It involved sticking to script. It involved doing those things that Manafort had been trying to get him to do, and which supposedly, he just decided to utterly reject.

And this was not just a one-time thing: “Thursday marked Trump’s third teleprompter speech since Monday, a departure from his typically free-wheeling campaign rallies.”

So he has head-faked in one direction — “Let Trump be Trump” — while his body has moved in the direction that offers his only chance of winning the election.

Perhaps most telling of all, in that speech Thursday night just up the road in Charlotte, he did the unthinkable, by Trumpian standards:

CHARLOTTE — Donald Trump on Thursday expressed regret over causing “personal pain” through ill-chosen words he has used “in the heat of debate,” an unexpected and uncharacteristic declaration of remorse for a candidate whose public persona is defined by his combative and bombastic style…

Don’t believe it? See the video above.

This shift has not gone unnoticed by every player on the court. Philip Bump of The Washington Post has picked up on it. To quote more fully from a piece I quoted partially above:

On Thursday night, 106 days since his last opponent dropped out of the Republican primaries, 28 days since he accepted the nomination and 82 days until Election Day, Donald Trump started running for president.

This is sort of an exaggeration, but only sort of. At a rally in North Carolina, Trump gave a speech that was the sort of speech that presidential candidates give, not the sort that Donald Trump gives. Speeches are one of the three ways that Trump gets himself into trouble (the other two being interviews and Twitter) so let’s not get too crazy assuming that Thursday-night-Trump is here to stay. But just in case he is, it’s worth planting a flag on where the race was when this change (however fleeting!) was made….

As Mr. Bump notes, if this is the start of a Trump comeback, he has a long, long way to climb.

But still. Must give us pause. And maybe we should stop focusing so much on the inside-baseball stuff, obsessing about what’s happening in the front office, and notice what’s actually happening out there in the game


59 thoughts on “Did Trump just head-fake us into looking the wrong way?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And yeah, speaking of head-fakes, I know I just shifted suddenly from a basketball metaphor to a baseball metaphor. But give me a break — I don’t claim to be a sportswriter.

    I hope no one got whiplash…

  2. Doug Ross

    You think Trump is stupid. What if he actually KNOWS what he is doing? What if he actually had a strategy all along that relied on the fact that the election will hinge on what happens in the last 6-8 weeks and not on anything before that?

    Trump can “evolve”… then Hillary can only talk about the old Trump — which in the current media climate may as well have been ten years ago.

    Trump going to Baton Rouge while Obama vacations and Hillary is in hiding for four days (relying on the tweets her staff writes on Twitter to pretend she’s engaged) will only hurt Hillary. She’s not a people person and these events solidify that perception.

      1. Tex

        Maybe she’s up at Martha’s Vineyard playing golf with Obama while California burns and Louisiana is experiencing a flood not seen since Katrina. It’s clear the Democrats don’t have time for these people.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    There exists no strategy whereby Trump recovers the vote of women who are not not now in favor of Trump.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Trump has a style. Like you said, it’s essentially “say whatever pops into your head without actively thinking”. I’m not sure I would put that under the category of a “strategy”. To me, the word strategy implies deliberation and calculation.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Well, there is the theory that he’s planned all this to burnish his brand, but I agree that he pretty much says whatever, whenever it pops into his head…

    1. Tex

      Most women I know, except for a few ultra-liberals at work, wouldn’t waste their time to support Hillary. They may not care for Trump, but they absolutely hate Hillary.

      1. Louise

        I agree. They may not talk about it in the current political environment, but only the most liberal women I know are Hillary supporters. Lots more will vote against her because they know her. She may still win, but she won’t get my vote.

  4. Kathy Duffy Thomas

    He’s “straightened up” for days, then given in to his need to spew. I wonder if his trumpkins would lose interest if he calmed down. I wonder if mainstream Republicans would buy the make-over or recognize the pig under the lipstick. In any case, Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory many times. I’ll wait for a week or two after the election to celebrate.

  5. Karen Pearson

    I wonder if anyone will question his wisdom and/or vetting procedures when he hired Manafort to start with considering some of the revelations over the past few days.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      See, that has occurred to me — that he needed to cut his losses with Manafort, but he’s still going to do what Manafort wanted him to do. And the Breitbart guy is just a smokescreen, something to give the Trumpkins to cheer about…

  6. David Carlton

    ” . . . the fact that the election will hinge on what happens in the last 6-8 weeks and not on anything before that.” The problem with this is that hardly any campaign in my lifetime has been decided in the last 6-8 weeks. Since 1948 (the year of my birth!) every candidate who was in the lead three weeks after the conventions has won. Of course, that doesn’t mean the trailing candidate hasn’t been able to make a good run, and historical precedents are there to be broken. But the contours of a race are generally very well defined before one gets to the last 6- 8 weeks. There will be a lot of noise–mainly because the media aren’t going to rest easily with a preset narrative–but what matters is the signal.

    Not to say, Brad, that we shouldn’t be nervous; this is a scary election. But my best friend has already warned me against giving myself an aneurysm over this.

    P.S. Have you seen this? http://www.thegotparty.com/.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      The last six to eight weeks aren’t going to matter. The numbers for Hillary are all marching in the same steady direction. There aren’t going to be “late breaking” votes for Trump. I’m so fed up with this version of the GOP that continues to go downhill.

      Eight years of Obama followed by eight years of Hillary. Get ready to live in “interesting times”.

      1. bud

        Yeh Brian not sure if the country can stand 8 more years of solid job growth, low inflation and declining budget deficits. And the horrors of low gasoline prices. And look at the soaring stock market ! My god how will we survive 8 more years of these horrors? And what will we do if the crime rate continues to drop. Yep I’m with you Bryan I’d like to see more home forclosures, bank failures and a declining DOW. Yep the good ole days of 2008 make my heart yearn for George W Bush. My hero. 🙂

        1. Tex

          Yeah the job growth is just incredible, why I bet there were 20 Starbucks and bartending jobs created just this week alone in Columbia now that USC has started classes. Isn’t Macy’s and one other giant retailer closing a bunch of stores around the country?

          Declining budget deficits??? Isn’t the national debt increasing by the second?

          Overall the crime rates may be declining, but we still have several where cities (Chicago for one) where murders and violent crime are at all-time highs.

          I’d like to see savings interest rates at least above 1%. How much money does the government pump into the market these days? Most successful people I know and people who know more about the market than I do have pulled their money out of the market except for maybe their 401k.

          1. David Carlton

            “Most successful people I know and people who know more about the market than I do have pulled their money out of the market except for maybe their 401k.” Er, and put it where? The mattress? Gold? Bonds? Warren Buffett puts his money in productive assets (either equities or companies) on the premise that a good investor puts his money in investments that will make a profit over the long haul. Most of my investments are in my 403b, and I’m still in the market (only a portion in equities, but I’m 68 and diversified). And I’m a millionaire–thanks not to my salary, but to saving and investment, so I think I must know something.

            Also–the Fed isn’t “the government”; it’s a mixed public-private enterprise. And the reason interest rates are so low here are the same reasons they’re even lower elsewhere in the world, even negative–too much capital and too few profitable and safe investments. It’s good ol’ supply and demand. You talk like higher interest on your savings is a divine right–it isn’t.

            1. Claus

              ” You talk like higher interest on your savings is a divine right–it isn’t.”

              It’s an economic indicator, and interest rates sitting around 0% isn’t exactly a positive indicator.

      2. Juan Caruso

        “The last six to eight weeks aren’t going to matter. The numbers for Hillary are all marching in the same steady direction. There aren’t going to be “late breaking” votes for Trump. I’m so fed up with this version of the GOP that continues to go downhill.”

        Ordinary strategy to enthuse voters in “tight” comtests had been not to stray from the perception of tightness. Hillary (and you, Bryan) have strayed from it, however, due to rationale fear (or confidence in voter fraud that KF claims does not exist — good luck with that KF!).

        It is still a very tight race, but guess who is NOT showing up in the polls you seem to have been blindly trusting? Gee, some might guess you believe Trump assertion that the election is being rigged for Hillary. Well, you would be right but this time feet will be held to the fire. Thank you Wikileaks!

      3. Doug Ross

        LA Times poll yesterday showed a 1 point spread yesterday. Hillary had lost all her post convention bounce. Neither candidate got 45%.

        She has done nothing to win the election. Trump can only go up.

        1. David Carlton

          Trump led Clinton throughout July in the LA Time tracker poll, which is conducted by polling a preset panel of people. He had a lead of as large as 7 points during the Democratic Convention. Since then Clinton has taken the lead, and it’s generally been 1-4; it’s now at 2. Looked at another way, Trump began at 43 percent, had a 4-point convention bounce, and has now lost it all. Clinton began at 40 percent, had a 5-point bounce, and has held onto it. In any case, it’s an outlier among polls, and the margin of error is +-3. Nobody goes by a single poll these days. All the major aggregators, including the right-leaning RCP, show a persistent lead that can’t be attributed to a “bounce.” And Trump most certainly could go down, as well as up.

          1. Doug Ross

            “Far better track record and methodology”

            Not this year. 538 blew it big time, multiple times. Not just Trump. They misread the UK Elections by a wide margin.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Unless they forecast 100% chance, they couldn’t “blow it.” Things with small chances still happen….

              1. Doug Ross

                Pollsters like to talk about the ones they got right as some indication that their models are better. When they’re wrong, they blame statistics. It’s a lot like economists.

                The fact that they were right on Obama could have been the outlier.

  7. Tex

    Anyone else notice the lack of political signs in yards? I think there is maybe one or two Trump signs in my entire neighborhood. No Clinton signs to be seen.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, and I would sort of expect that with a local race.

        I’m sitting here trying to remember whether we saw many presidential yard signs during the fall in 2008 or 2012 — and I can’t. I know we get a lot of signs before the presidential primaries here, because those are hard-fought and high stakes for the campaigns.

        But since the general has been a foregone conclusion for so many cycles, I don’t know whether the national campaigns shell out for a lot of signs in SC. I just can’t recall.

        Changing the subject completely, this is why I’ve never undertaken writing a novel. I get intimidated by the wealth of detail in, say, Patrick O’Brian’s novels, bringing a long-ago time to life. And yet when I run into something like this — the question of yard signs — that was in my OWN life, in a field that I paid intense attention to, and I realize I can’t recall that detail, it scares me off.

        Whether it’s for print or the blog, I stick to what I DO know, what I DO remember, and that’s more than enough. But a novel — in a novel, it seems to me, you have to be omniscient…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          A whole lot of people in the central city were very much signed up (see what I did there) for Obama both times, including me. I noticed lots of the GOP signs in—shock–Lexington County and Aiken County, bless their hearts.

  8. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, I’m starting to worry here.

    Yeah, Trump went off-script and managed to be extremely offensive to black voters in his vain attempt to get them to consider him (or rather, to make white voters with consciences less likely to oppose him).


    Now he’s hinting at reversing himself on immigration. See, that’s scary because it could get Republicans who were LOOKING for an excuse to allow themselves to vote for him cover — not cover that would be satisfactory to ME, but enough to persuade some partisan Republicans to do what they always do and vote R.

    Yeah, it risks alienating his base, but I heard someone making a decent argument this morning that they’re not going to desert him — and think about it; where would they go? Is there another lunatic on the horizon? No; he’s all they’ve got….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The argument I heard on the radio about how this immigration move doesn’t endanger the support from his base is that they decided long ago where he really stands on immigration, back when he was trashing the moderate approaches of such people as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

      In other words, they’ve made up their minds he’s one of them, and can rationalize his trying to sound more moderate to get elected.

      It’s important that the rest of us remember the same thing — that he has already shown us who he is…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        NPR had a guy on who suggested that the “pivot” on immigration could work because Trump is saying he’s okay with allowing the “good ones” to stay, which does provide cover for those who are otherwise aghast at rounding ’em all up, a la Stalin.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      Ha! It’s almost like he has no overall principles or value system that gives him a consistent underlying foundation for governance. Almost.

      It’s hilarious that he’s now reversing himself on his signature policy (although I hesitate to use the word “policy”) which is why so many people were voting for him to begin with. If there are any Republicans who are voting for Trump because of “Judges”, seeing his reversal on the immigration issue should highlight how he doesn’t really believe in anything…but himself.

      He’s going to get his butt kicked so hard this election, I’m starting to wonder if his reverse coattails doom the GOP majority in the House and the Senate.

      Gravis has a new SC poll out, and Trump is up by 4% with an MoE of 3.5%. It’s now entirely plausible that Hillary turns SC blue. I’m not ready to call SC for Hillary yet, but she’s going to make a race of it here.

      I’ll change the military analogy, since Cannae is getting old. Trump will fare as well on election night as the Union army did trying to take Marye’s Heights at Fredricksburg.

      1. Doug Ross

        ” I’m not ready to call SC for Hillary yet, but she’s going to make a race of it here.”

        Remember that BREXIT was a lock to lose, right?

        I think we should wait until after the first debate before we’re SURE Trump will lose. I’m also not going to rule out more hacker data dumps in the coming weeks that expose the Clinton Foundation or Hillary even more.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’m FAR from sure he’ll lose.

          All it takes for Hillary to lose instead is for things to go a little better for him, and a little worse for her. And as Doug notes, there’s always another land mine in front of Hillary.

          If she’s done in by Wikileaks, will she blame it on “the vast libertarian, anti-American conspiracy?”

            1. Doug Ross

              Because the payoff of doing so is very limited. What’s the worst that could come out of it? That he’s only a billionaire instead of a multi-billionaire? That he used legal loopholes available in the tax code to minimize his tax burden? There isn’t any story there comparable to the possibility that the Clintons used their foundation for personal profit and sold access to government officials. That’s several orders of magnitude more damaging.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                It must be pretty bad, because otherwise not releasing them makes no sense.

                What could be there that he doesn’t think he could shrug off the way he does everything else? Cash payments from Putin? A record of paying ZERO taxes? Something else we can’t even imagine?

                1. Doug Ross

                  “It must be pretty bad, because otherwise not releasing them makes no sense.”

                  If he loses the election, he still has to go back to running his company. There could be any number of items in his taxes that would give either his competitors or the people he deals with an advantage. That makes complete sense.

        1. Doug Ross

          This is the same Nate Silver who said Trump would never, ever, ever win the nomination six months ago?

          He got it right once with Obama and has parlayed that into a big payday. Now let’s see if he can keep it up. Because if Trump wins, Nate Silver as a celebrity pollster is dead.

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