In his own unorthodox way, Donald Trump is unmistakably evolving into a general election candidate.Yes, he's becoming a real pussycat!
The over-the-top billionaire is talking about flexibility in his hardline immigration policies. He's pledging to moderate his bullying tone.... he's working to assume the mantle of GOP standard-bearer....
Except, as CNN tells us, no, he isn't -- not really:
Donald Trump said Wednesday that he thinks "Islam hates us," drawing little distinction between the religion and radical Islamic terrorism.See, this is the thing about Trump -- he can't stop being Trump. To some extent, he'd be crazy to try, because if he stops talking like a bully as soon as he secures the nomination, he's going to lose his base, which appreciates him precisely because he talks like a bully.
"I think Islam hates us," Trump told CNN's Anderson Cooper, deploring the "tremendous hatred" that he said partly defined the religion. He maintained the war was against radical Islam, but said, "it's very hard to define. It's very hard to separate. Because you don't know who's who."
Asked if the hate was "in Islam itself," Trump would only say that was for the media to figure out.
"You're gonna have to figure that out, OK?" he told Cooper. "We have to be very vigilant. We have to be very careful. And we can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States."
Even the AP's Pace sees that Trump isn't changing completely:
To be sure, Trump is still very much doing things his way.... His calls for party unity are still bracketed by jabs at rivals "Little Marco" Rubio and "Lying Ted" Cruz.I read Tom Friedman's column yesterday, and he understands this to some extent:
One of the lessons I learned covering the Middle East is that the only good thing about extremists is that they don’t know when to stop -- and in the end, they often do themselves in. See: Saddam Hussein.Although Friedman also echoes the conventional wisdom:
... if he wins the nomination he will have no problem moving to the center to appeal to independents and minorities. He will have no problem playing the moderate unifier -- and plenty of people will buy it, saying: “Why not give him a chance? He says he can make us winners.” Sure, Mexico will have to pay for that wall, Trump will say, but it will be in “installments.” Deport 11 million illegal immigrants? C’mon, don’t you know an opening bid on an immigration bill when you hear one? Ban all Muslims? Well of course we can’t ban a whole faith community, but Trump will vow to be much harder on visas from certain countries. Have you never read “The Art of the Deal”?I'm just not convinced that Trump can thread this needle. I suppose it's possible -- maybe he can limit his extremism to those subjects on which extremism doesn't turn off middle-of-the-road voters (and maybe the alleged evils of Islam fall into that category, regrettably). But Trump is also going to run a gutter-level gossip campaign against Hillary Clinton. That's going to be offputting enough. I just don't think he'll do that and restrain himself in most other ways.
I should note that the AP story sees Trump mellowing because he seems to be mellowing toward the GOP establishment:
One party concern about a Trump nomination is that he would cost the GOP both the White House and its Senate majority. In battleground states like Ohio and New Hampshire in particular, Republican senators up for re-election could face constant questions about his policies and personal insults, forcing them to talk more about him than their own campaigns.Is that how it's going to be? Trump as a general election candidate will still be a thug, and will still be firing up crowds that include, in Friedman's words, "racists and fascists with a taste for violence," but because he'll be cooperating with party leaders -- who are reporters' friends -- the news coverage will say that Trump has been domesticated, and is safe now?
In a step toward allaying those worries, Trump has begun signaling to Republican lawmakers that he wants to be their ally, not their burden.
"I would love to see the Republican Party and everybody get together and unify," he said after a strong showing in last week's Super Tuesday contests. "And when we unify, there's nobody, nobody that's going to beat us."
Trump has made initial overtures to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan....
Well, it may not matter. I really don't believe he can figure out the right way to deploy all this for a general election audience. He's been lulled by the positive response to his ugly behavior among rage-filled GOP voters. I think he'll struggle to pivot -- or just not try very hard.
(Also see this follow-up post.)