“Donald Trump is campaigning as a general election candidate at this point,” wrote Callum Borchers on the Washington Post’s Fix blog.
NBC News’ Lester Holt said, “Trump’s comments appear to signal a more moderate shift, and some are asking if it a sign of things to come,” after the Republican Presidential candidate appeared to oppose — albeit briefly — North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law.
Expect to hear this meme repeated in the media following a foreign policy speech Trump is scheduled to deliver on Wednesday.
The concept of a general election pivot — that candidates can shed extreme and divisive statements and policies as they move from partisan primaries into the general election in order to appeal to a wider swath of the electorate — is at best an exaggerated phenomenon. In the case of Donald Trump, it is an impossibility.
Trump’s conservatism is not based on a set of policy positions that can be slightly modified or added to in order to make them more palatable. His campaign was born in the fringes of the conservative movement.
The American public’s memory might be short, but they will not forget that Trump’s presidential campaign is rooted in the birther movement and his doubts about the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate.
Trump launched his campaign with a racist attack on Mexican immigrants claiming they are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
He cannot moderate his proposal “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
And Trump cannot force the public to unremember the plethora of sexist statements he has made, from denigrating Carly Fiorina by stating, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” to his sexist attacks Megyn Kelly.
Trump’s controversial statements were not random or an accident. They were designed to curry favor with the far right. In early April Gabe Sherman reported in New York magazine that the Trump campaign’s communications efforts began with a study of what appealed to the conservative radio audience.
Throughout 2014, the three fed Trump strategy memos and political intelligence. “I listened to thousands of hours of talk radio, and he was getting reports from me,” [former Trump aide Sam] Nunberg recalled. What those reports said was that the GOP base was frothing over a handful of issues including immigration, Obamacare, and Common Core. While Jeb Bush talked about crossing the border as an “act of love,” Trump was thinking about how high to build his wall. “We either have borders or we don’t,” Trump told the faithful who flocked to the annual CPAC conference in 2014.
A campaign born from the talking points of conservative talk radio hosts can only pivot to the mainstream if the American people develop a collective case of amnesia. That is unlikely to happen in 2016.