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.