Donald Trump tells a revealing story about recruiting finance partners years ago for a major construction project. The day before their site visit, Trump ordered the contractor superintendent to bring in extra workers and equipment to give the impression of heightened activity and progress, even if that activity was make-work.
According to Trump, it worked.
Trump has been busy recently flying all over the country for his latest major project, even wasting precious time campaigning in places he’s already sure to lose or win. That gives the impression of great activity with enthusiastic rally crowds.
There, Trump denounces Hillary Clinton and the media and boasts, of course, about the large crowds, as if they foreshadow a large vote for him Nov. 8. Trump supporters, who’ve invested their money and allegiance in the developer’s idea, loudly echo the candidate’s assertions in every forum imaginable.
Large campaign crowds, of course, guarantee absolutely nothing about election success; ask Bernie Sanders.
It all sounds good, drives media coverage, fuels hope and combats otherwise discouraging indicators. Large campaign crowds, of course, guarantee absolutely nothing about election success; ask Bernie Sanders. Or ask the investors who bought into all the construction site activity that later went bankrupt.
Trump’s supporters tout his record primary-vote total of 13 million. It is impressive. But Trump will need five times that many votes, and in just the right places, to be competitive in two months.
Last week, after wasting a day in Washington, which hasn’t voted Republican since Reagan’s 1984 landslide, Trump did pull off an impressive PR coup. He peremptorily accepted an invitation to meet the Mexican president.
Among her numerous challenges, Hillary Clinton is congenitally cautious. So, she passed.
And thus the haggard-looking candidate handed Trump a priceless photo op victory. There on the international stage stood the man she describes as a dangerous loose cannon. But Trump was well-behaved, spoke politely but firmly and looked like a plausible president, at least that afternoon.
At a joint news conference with Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump comfortably handled a few questions and even appeared to preside.
Then came the trophy: The photo of the two, leaning toward each other, shaking hands. By itself, that picture was worth the trip. Not only did Trump fit the scene, he also now has held more news conferences in foreign countries this year than Clinton has held anywhere since December.
You probably heard much more about Trump’s immigration speech in Phoenix a few hours later. According to news coverage, the New Yorker was angry and bombastic and he lost any gained ground. Immigration has been Trump’s core issue, and hard-core supporters were delighted with what they heard.
Now, when Trump stays disciplined, he has numbered policy points, anecdotes, entertaining asides, all in conversational style.
What you, like many media, might miss is how much improved Trump is as a public speaker. A few months ago his rally speeches entertained the crowds and Trump himself.
But as political messages they were virtually incoherent. Read just a few paragraphs of this transcript I made of his Birmingham rally last winter. Now, when Trump stays disciplined, he has numbered policy points, anecdotes, entertaining asides, all in conversational style.
More importantly, the words hard-liner Trump uttered in Phoenix brooked no compromise, by golly. “There is only one core issue in the immigration debate,” he declared, “and that issue is the well-being of the American people. . . . Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.”
Everyone must leave and apply to return legally. But Trump’s details could have come from Marco Rubio or other GOP competitors last fall, when Trump derided them as amnesty. And notice the wiggle word: subject.
First, Trump would secure the border. Then, deport the bad guys. Fix our broken immigration system. And, hey, when all that’s done years down the road, we’ll discuss what to do with 11 million illegals. No real rush.
Now, Trump’s got video clips for firm ads and reasonable ads. At their debate in three weeks, Clinton will charge that her opponent wants to sunder millions of Hispanic families.
Trump can smile patiently, shake his head and suggest the Democrat deleted that memory too. Trump will reiterate for the national TV audience of some 60 million the reasonable points he made after a meeting with Mexico’s president. That was a meeting on immigration, he can suggest, that Clinton the fundraiser was too busy to attend.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.