Have we ever seen a presidential campaign be so open about trying to unveil a candidate makeover the way we’ve seen Donald Trump’s team tip off his new look in recent days?This is despite the fact that
Huddling with nervous Republican elites, Trump’s senior aide Paul Manafort recently assured them the candidate’s “image is going to change,” according to a New York Times report. "You'll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You'll see a real different way," Manafort stressed, according to the Associated Press. Trump to date has been “projecting an image" and "the part that he's been playing is now evolving,” the aide guaranteed members of the Republican National Committee.
... unlike previous instances when pundits and reporters thought they caught prominent candidates trying to change their stripes (especially when Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were the media targets), most of the press hasn’t erupted to denounce Trump for being a would-be charlatan. They haven’t cried out about his lack of genuineness.
The fact is, much of the political press has spent the last nine months touting Trump’s supposed authenticity and praising his allegedly candid campaigning style. But now faced with evidence to the contrary, and faced with evidence coming directly from Trump’s campaign, the same press corps seems unwilling to puncture the previous Mr. Authentic storyline.
For the campaign press, there really is no greater sin than being a phony; than being out of touch with your core beliefs. (Even Mitt Romney got singed by the press in 2012 when he was seen as trying to pull off a costume change mid-campaign.)I have a theory about this. I suspect that you can be a complete phony and still be described by the political press as "authentic" -- if you appeal to voters who are seen as "authentic." That means white people who live far from the coasts, who didn't have elite educations, and who don't have white-collar jobs or upscale tastes. If your voters like country music and hunting and NASCAR and Applebee's, that makes you authentic, even if you're a complete phony.
Thus, in 2003, Bill Keller could acknowledge in The New York Times that George W. Bush's ranch had been purchased as he was gearing up for his presidential while still insisting that the ranch was a mark of Bush's genuineness:
[George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan] are westerners (Midland, Tex., is truly the West, not the South), with a fondness for the region's open spaces and don't-fence-me-in rhetoric.... As president, Reagan was happiest clearing brush on his mountaintop ranch in California, and Bush loves chain-sawing cedar on his expanse of Texas prairie. Bush is a latecomer to this lifestyle, having acquired his ranch while a presidential candidate, and he is more self-conscious about it. (Reagan disappeared to his ranch and called it vacation; Bush calls his the Western White House and makes it a showcase of his authenticity.)Yes, Bush was "a latecomer to this lifestyle" and was "self-conscious" about it, but it was nevertheless "a showcase of his authenticity."
I suppose you could read that as skepticism of the image-making on Keller's part, but most of the press took Bush's cowboy act very much at face value. Trump is getting the same treatment.
If blue-collar white men cheer you on, you win: you're "authentic," because they are. Nail that, and afterward you can be as phony as you please.