Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bulldozed his way through the GOP primary to the surprise of the Republican establishment and the former “bad boys” of the party, like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump did so largely without spending money on ads, instead relying on earned media and name recognition. It worked. But during the primary, he was able to say outrageous things and not suffer polling consequences, thanks to many “anti-politically correct” GOP primary voters.
Once he won the nomination, however, voters vehemently opposed to what he said during the primary (like suggesting Mexican immigrants were rapists or calling for a ban on allowing Muslim’s from Islamic State-controlled countries into the U.S.) began being taken into account. Suddenly, his comments were hurting him with large swaths of the population.
Because of his rhetoric during the primary, there was no way Trump was ever going to be able to win over those who despised what he said. The media was always going to treat him like a sexist racist, because he’s running as a Republican, so no amount of pivoting toward standard policy proposals was ever going to fix that.
So it comes as no surprise that when Trump gave an economic speech on Monday he received little to no praise. The speech could have been written for any Republican, whether former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney or current House Speaker Paul Ryan or even former Trump rival Cruz. It was pretty standard Republican stuff: school choice, lower taxes, fewer regulations.
There was nothing really new—except that it was completely new because this was a revamped Trump giving the speech. He’s managed to not make any new controversies for himself either. In fact, the controversy du jour (although mainstream media outlets are predictably ignoring it) is about the father of the Orlando terrorist sitting behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and endorsing her.
For once, Trump hasn’t stepped in to take the heat off Clinton and put it back on himself. He gave a simple economic speech, has avoided controversy, and yet still it probably won’t help him. The first impression people have of him—that he’s bombastic and possibly racist and sexist—won’t soon go away, especially after just a couple of days. But it is interesting the extent to which this new Trump—if he lasts—is being ignored.
Even though he was being practical during his economic speech, he was interrupted by protesters more than a dozen times. They never cared about what he was actually saying; it was all about his past rhetoric, emphasizing just how impossible it will be to turn this ship around public opinion-wise.
Obviously, Trump brought this on himself. Those who know him say his rhetoric doesn’t match his actual personality. MSNBC host and former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough said Tuesday morning that he’s known Trump for 12 years and has “never heard him say the first thing that even resembles a racist remark.” Scarborough also said Trump was “the type of person that if you were sitting around the table and somebody made a racist remark, he would raise his eyebrow and say, ‘Are you kidding me? Where are you from, the 1950s?’ ”
He called Trump’s campaign and rhetoric a “scam.”
This makes it all the more amazing that opponents see Trump as racist. But none of this matters. Whether Trump truly is as he is portrayed on TV or not, that is the narrative people have, and there is nothing Trump can do to change it. He could spend the next three months giving practical policy speeches and avoiding any controversial statements, and he would still be accused of bigotry.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.