Top Trump advisor: Candidate’s primary rhetoric was all an act

Team Trump has been doing some damage control with the GOP elite. According to the Associated Press, “Donald Trump’s chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday the GOP front-runner has been ‘projecting an image’ so far in the 2016 primary season and ‘the part that he’s been playing is now evolving’ in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters.”

Donald Trump has always been the reality show candidate. His experience on The Apprentice has clearly informed his Presidential campaign. He made it known from day one that he wasn’t here to make friends, that he was here to win. And like any good reality show villain, Trump went about eliminating his fellow contestants (candidates) by any means necessary.

This was particularly clear during the debates. All of the candidates were prepared within an inch of their lives to present their best selves on TV, but Trump took his TV game to the next level. He nailed sound bites and engaged his opponents, the applause, the boos and even the reaction shots. Whereas his opponents were there to debate, Trump’s goal was to keep the cameras (and the post-debate media coverage) fixated on him during precious prime time hours.

What’s surprising is that the Trump campaign is acknowledging this. As the AP continued:.

“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” [Trump senior strategist Paul] Manafort said in a private briefing.

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

The Associated Press obtained a recording of the closed-door exchange.

“He gets it,” Manafort said of Trump’s need to moderate his personality. “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”

I believe them. The best reality show villains have to pivot and reframe their narrative if they have any hope of winning the game. They have to get people who once loathed them on their side. Trump is already taking steps towards this. The hiring of Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley, both veteran GOP political operatives, and the fact that Manafort is having this conversation with the GOP political class is a sign that the Trump rebrand is already underway.

What’s scary is that he might succeed.

Melissa Ryan is a political consultant. She’s spent a decade leading digital campaigns for nonprofits and political races, including EMILY’s List, Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, the New Organizing Institute, and Senator Russ Feingold’s campaign. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @MelissaRyan.

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