Can Donald Trump Really Transform His Image for the General Election?

June 27th 2016

Ian Gurvitz

When it became disturbingly clear that Donald Trump would be the presumptive Republican nominee, he went on stage and bragged, “I’m going to be so presidential.” It was as if "The Presidential" was a suit he could buy from the Trump catalogue that came with an extra pair of pants, intelligence, and dignity. As if a stylistic change would magically whitewash 12 months of vile rhetoric. And no one blinked an eye.

That’s because the notion of persona rehabilitation has become embedded in our psyche.

When a celebrity has a misstep, they instantly embark on the Mea Culpa Tour. Get a DUI? Get busted sending a dick pic, or having actual, old-fashioned sex with someone who’s not your wife? Call a cop "sugar tits" and make hateful remarks about Jews or African-Americans? Engage in a little extracurricular dog-fighting? No problem. Just stage a press conference, make a pouty, sad face, throw some cash at a charity and, poof! You’re reinvented. It's like going through a reputation car wash.

That’s fine for actors or athletes; unfortunately, the notion of image reinvention has now become legitimate for politicians. Somehow, we’ve accepted the idea that, no matter what a candidate says or does during the primary, they can engage in some political shape-shifting and swing voters will be gullible enough to go along for the ride.

During the 2012 election, Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom suggested that the candidate was going to Etch A Sketch his personality and tone in order to pivot to the general election. During Trump’s “presidential” metamorphosis, his, then, recently hired and now in charge campaign manager, Paul Manafort, tried to reassure GOP leaders by saying that Trump had just been playing a part, implying that the candidate would soon act in a way befitting the office. Per Manafort: “You can’t change somebody’s character, but you can change the way a person presents himself.” So said the man whose done PR work for a murderers' row of, well, murderers.

It would be one thing if this was just a notion floated into the zeitgeist by political operatives, but even the media has bought into it, as they collectively ponder whether Trump will be able to tone down the rhetoric.

For a brief moment, even the candidate seemed to buy his own bullshit, starting with his kiss-and-make-up interview with Megyn Kelly.

Not that he admitted any mistakes. That’s not in his DNA. Which is why it came off so sickeningly fake when he flashed that stupid, cutesy grin, cooing, “Did I call you a bimbo? Excuse me.” Wow. He should’ve just given her a red heart made out of construction paper with “Donald loves Megyn” written in crayon. Then there was the contrived humility of his "I'll never let you down" remark. This was soon followed by his Supreme Court pick list, which was chewed over in the media, as pundits strained to evaluate whether the judges were appropriately conservative. No one seemed to focus on the fact that one of the names on the list was Justice Don Willett of Texas, who referred to Trump as Darth Vader and openly mocked the candidate on Twitter.

Also on the list, Judge Diane Sykes, the ex-wife of conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes, who helped torpedo Trump in Wisconsin. Given Trump’s trademark vindictiveness against his critics, there’s no way he would knowingly put up either of these people for the Supreme Court. Trump didn’t compile the list. Trump didn’t even read the list. Trump couldn’t find the Supreme Court building with a mirror on a selfie stick and a map of D.C. tattooed on his ass.

I understand the GOP is praying Trump will clean up his act and walk the party line. They’re scared to death he’s going to take down the ship. That’s because the worst thing you can call a Democrat is inconsistent in his or her position or, horror of horrors, a hypocrite. The worst thing you can call a Republican is out of power, and most would support a talking turd if they thought they could ride it into the White House. As Paul Ryan stated, Trump is more likely than Hillary Clinton to enact GOP policies. Ryan’s justification is based on the arrogance that he’s on a mission from God to promote supply-side economics. Therefore, Republican policies trump putting a racist, sexist, preening jackass in the White House. The ultimate hypocrisy is that if Trump were ahead in the polls, Republicans would be goose-stepping through the halls of Congress proudly sporting Make America Great Again baseball hats. They’d mask any personal distaste behind the talking point that “the American people have spoken.” 

Thanks to the popularity of reality TV, we’ve accepted the notion that appearance is reality. But in government, reality is reality. It’s not just politics; it’s power. And power is policy. And policy is life. Just look at the four gun control bills that went down in flames in the Senate. Thanks to a few votes, a suspected terrorist can still get an AR-15. So, sleep tight.

For over a year, Trump has spewed a stream of ignorant bile that would be considered over the line from a drunk at the end of a bar at last call. He’s not only demeaned the electoral process – a process one would think couldn’t be demeaned any further – he’s demeaned the presidency, itself. Instead of raising his game to befit the dignity of the office, he dragged it down to his level, just to satisfy his bloated ego. 

Trump can’t shape shift, pivot, or reinvent himself. He’s exactly who he seems to be. Behavior is character. The man is, and has always been a snake oil salesman. He can’t act “presidential.” Paul Manafort is right — you can’t change somebody’s character, and like Shelley’s "Ozymandias," Trump’s character is carved in stone. And equally inflated with self-importance. He is exactly who he seems to be. It doesn’t matter if he tones down his rhetoric, shape shifts, pivots, or tries to reinvent. At the end of the day, you can’t Etch A Sketch an asshole.

Ian Gurvitz is the author of "Welcome to Dumbfuckistan: The Dumbed-Down, Disinformed, Dysfunctional, Disunited States of America."