“I’m gonna turn things around,” the politician said. “Together, friends, we will chart a new, optimistic course for America. We will put America first!”
With that kind of bland, impersonal talk, the politician could have been any politician from any corner of the country. Man or woman, Democrat or Republican, outsider or entrenched incumbent.
“I’m working for you,” the politician said.
Well, yeah. They all say that.
Except, this wasn’t any old bullshitter seeking office. This was Donald Trump, the best, biggest bullshitter and de facto Republican nominee—perhaps the least agreeable man in the country.
To the extent that he has the capacity to behave in a way that can be objectively characterized as presidential, Trump did so Friday afternoon, at Faith and Freedom Coalition conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
It’s an evangelical crowd that he’s addressed before, but unlike last year, when he waved a Bible around and declared it his favorite book (followed by his own, The Art of the Deal), Trump didn’t bring any props.
He hardly even brought his personality.
This week was a bad one for Trump.
Following his criticism of Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge in one of the two class action cases against Trump University, for his Mexican heritage, which he said precluded him from doing his job fairly, Trump found himself on the receiving end of an unusual wave of pushback from his fellow Republicans.
Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, said in a press conference that Trump’s remarks were “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump critic, compared him to Joe McCarthy. Mark Kirk, the Senator from Illinois, rescinded his support for his candidacy. And Susan Collins, the Senator from Maine, told The New Yorker she wasn’t ruling out voting for Hillary Clinton.
For once, this sort of thing seems to actually matter.
In a Fox News poll released Thursday, Trump’s support took a minor nosedive—he trails Clinton by three points.
In Trumpian fashion, he hasn’t apologized. But unlike the other times he’s found himself widely criticized—for calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants entering the country, or for suggesting undocumented illegal immigrants from Mexico are rapists, or for saying Senator John McCain, a war hero, was “not a war hero”—he seems to be altering his behavior in response.
The Republican primary was defined by Trump’s unwillingness to compromise, which proved to be smart politics in the end, considering that he won. But it would appear he hasn’t viewed the success of that strategy as a guide for the general election. Rather than continue to just be himself, Trump is going on script, making himself sound like a close approximation of an even-keeled human.
“It’s an honor to speak here today and discuss our shared values,” Trump said Friday. “We want to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life. Marriage and family as the building block of happiness and success—so important.”
He said the happiest people he knew had, “that great, religious feel” as well as an “incredible marriage.”
He called for religious freedom, and said that, “no one should be judged by their race, or their color and the color of the skin—should not be judged that way. Right now we have a very divided nation, if I win we’re going to bring our nation together.”
Trump used phrases like, “forge our partnership” and “foundation of our society.”
He made a reference to “crooked Hillary,” but his criticisms of her were substantive.
And seemed to hint at a speech he plans to give Monday about the Clintons.
“Hillary Clinton has jeopardized—totally jeopardized—national security by putting her emails on a private server,” he said. “All to hide her corrupt dealings.”
The result may not offend anyone, but it’s pretty dull.