Trump’s half-hearted pivot

One of the distinguishing features of the Donald Trump campaign has been his breezy assurance that he will defeat all his opponents and win. Almost all candidates try to portray confidence in their own eventual success. That is how they get people to join their campaigns and contribute money. But they also try to temper that with some caveats so that their supporters don’t get complacent.

With Trump there seemed to be no reservations at all to his sense of being a winner. One manifestation of this confidence is his refusal to admit mistakes or apologize. Even when he reversed himself, he acted as if his current position was the one he always held, the facts be damned. His success in the primary race and his steady support in opinion polls must have been seen by him as vindication of his approach.

I tend to think that this was not an act and that he actually believed in himself and his ability to storm his way to victory by telling people that he was a winner who will keep on winning and that by hitching their wagons to his cause, they would be winners too. He also had little use for Republicans who did not endorse him, seeing them as people unable to recognize a winner and thus losers themselves. He also tends to take a tit-for-tat approach with people. If they are nice to him, he is nice to them. If he thinks they are disrespecting him, he will snub them. It does not seem to matter who they are.

So I was not surprised when he initially refused to endorse Republicans Paul Ryan, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte in their respective re-election campaigns since they had pointedly been reluctant to enthusiastically endorse him. But I was surprised when he reversed himself last night and endorsed them, uncharacteristically reading his stilted endorsements from sheets of papers, suggesting that his heart was not in it and that this was something that he felt constrained to do. It may be that his cratering poll numbers in the last week has finally made him realize that he cannot go it alone and that he does need the support of his party’s leadership to stop the decline.

The question is whether this is merely another ad hoc measure to appease these three party leaders or whether this is a sign of a complete revamping of his campaign ‘strategy’ (if one can call it that) of shooting from the hip with outright xenophobic and misogynistic statements that delight his rabid base but have alienated so many of his party’s thought leaders who prefer to use coded language. Is he now going to make the long-sought-for ‘pivot’ to the center, try to curb his tendency to make inflammatory remarks at his rallies and in his interviews, and thus bring back into the party’s fold all those who are currently fleeing it?

Even if he wants to, I don’t think he can. It is clear that he is simply not interested in details of policy and trying to run a campaign that involves getting into the weeds of policies is not something he can do. I think he is intoxicated by the adulation of the crowds and they in turn love the red meat he throws them. They are locked in an embrace from which he cannot extricate himself and so we can expect to see periodic eruptions of controversy as he seizes on things that seem to support his weird worldview even if they lack any merit.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    But I was surprised when he reversed himself last night and endorsed them…

    He reverses himself quite frequently. What would be a surprise is if he admitted he was wrong.

  2. robert79 says

    I’m really curious as to what will happen when he loses the election (and I suspect and really really really hope this will be the case…) he will either:
    1) Claim he was never serious about running anyways.
    2) Claim he won but didn’t want the job after all, and so Clinton got second place.
    3) Claim he really won but the election was rigged against him.
    I doubt he’ll be able to admit that he lost… and this may be a problem.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Somehow I don’t think that Ryan, McCain, &/or Ayotte will center their campaigns around the “Endorsed by Donald Trump!” theme.

  4. Mano Singham says


    Why I was surprised was that Trump holds grudges against those he thinks disrespect him. The fact that he reversed himself without them first coming to his support is what is surprising.

  5. lorn says

    A lot of people seem to think that if they just pull back the curtain and expose the man working the levers that Trump will get real and come clean. That is how it worked out in the movie.

    The problem with this is that The Donald is not the man behind the curtain, he is Oz, the projection, the symbol, the icon. The little guy behind the screen is the leading lights of the RNC and right-wing strategists, and media heads.

    As Oz, Trump needn’t worry about facts. As Cheney said about not being reality based (paraphrasing): ‘We make our own reality and while the rest of the world tries to figure out what to do we have made another reality’. Trump/Oz/non-reality based politics is like that. That is the trick of religion when they put words in the mouth of a notional God. They say God said it and it becomes reality to believers. Even non-believers can’t ignore it. They must cite, and thus reinforce, the assertion to address it.

  6. david says

    I don’t think he changed his mind about endorsing Ryan. In my view, he always intended to endorse, but wanted to get in a little dig at revenge, by quoting Ryan’s “I’m not ready” back at him. Then wait a few days and endorse. Not a pivot, just juvenile taunting.

  7. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    It was odd and uncharacteristic of him to read lines off a paper. He almost never uses notes. He does sometimes use a teleprompter, why did he not in this case? There were little ad-lib interjections, but it seemed pretty clear to me that he was taking pains to say very specific phrases which were on that page.

    To me this says he was leaned-on, hard, by one or more people, possibly Reince Priebus representing the R party’s treasury and backed by major donors. There was a negotiation, and specific phrases were agreed on and written down. You agree to say these exact things, or else.

    It would be fascinating to know what “or else” was, specifically.

  8. KG says

    I tend to agree with Just an Organic Regular Expression@7: Trump was acting under duress. Moreover, his reading from paper was possibly intended to signal that he was acting under duress.

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