Donald Trump Unexpectedly Shifts Toward a Softer, More-Serious Approach


June 8, 2016

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. — Donald J. Trump, aided by two teleprompters, presented the version of himself on Tuesday evening that Republican Party officials had desperately craved — softer, serious and sophisticated.

June 8, 2016

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. — Donald J. Trump, aided by two teleprompters, presented the version of himself on Tuesday evening that Republican Party officials had desperately craved — softer, serious and sophisticated.

Donald J. Trump at his primary night event at the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York, on Tuesday.

“I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle and I will never ever let you down,” Mr. Trump said in a speech at his golf club here. “I will make you proud of your party and our movement.”

Mr. Trump’s disciplined performance was geared at soothing nervous voters and at stopping the flight of high-ranking Republicans after two senators rescinded their endorsements. And it came just hours after Mr. Trump reminded them why they had been concerned in the first place.

A series of missteps and vicious attacks — with targets that included former rivals, entire nationalities and religious groups — has led to fears that Mr. Trump has doomed Republican chances of taking back the White House and keeping the party’s hold on the Senate. It was the type of calm performance that Mr. Trump has delivered before, only to revert to form within days.

“Tonight’s speech doesn’t change much,” said Dan Senor, who supported Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in the primaries and who has been an adviser to Speaker Paul D. Ryan. “ Even tonight, there are conversations that maybe, just maybe, he says these offensive things because he actually believes them.”

Mr. Trump’s challenges culminated in a series of destructive episodes over the last two weeks: He insinuated that the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University was biased against him because of the judge’s Mexican heritage; he belittled members of his staff on a conference call; and he left his aides scrambling — yet again — to impose discipline on an operation characterized for months by its chaotic, freewheeling ethos.

On Tuesday, after Mr. Ryan said the remarks about the judge were “racist,” Mr. Trump released a statement saying, “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial.” But he did not apologize, as many Republican leaders had asked him to do.

Mr. Ryan maintained his endorsement of Mr. Trump, but two senators, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, withdrew theirs, and Mr. Graham urged other Republicans to do the same.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted tauntingly at MSNBC host Joe Scarborough after he said Mr. Trump was “acting like a racist.” His top policy adviser, Sam Clovis, told a Republican group in Iowa that the judge in the Trump University case belongs to an “anti-American” Hispanic group, according to The Des Moines Register.

“They are waiting for him to change, and he is not going to change,” Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who supported Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio in the primaries, said on Tuesday. “This is like the old story of the scorpion and the frog — the Republican Party is the frog and Donald Trump is the scorpion, and we want these assurances he’s going to stop doing these things but he can’t, because it’s in his nature.”

Tim Pawlenty, a Republican and the former governor of Minnesota, was not quite as pessimistic, saying he still had “hope for at least some improvement.”

“Even modest changes would help,” he said.

Though Mr. Trump vanquished a legion of primary opponents without much change in demeanor or strategy, he is entering a race in which he is trailing in opinion polls. His support among college-educated suburban voters in battleground states is especially low, according to polling conducted by Republican groups.

Aides are discussing ways to keep Mr. Trump focused during the next few weeks. Among the options is deploying his three oldest children, who have urged him in the past to act “more presidential,” as well as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to travel with him in a rotation.

At the same time, the Trump operation is relying on the Republican National Committee, as well as on several “super PACs” that support him, to handle tasks typically overseen by a presidential campaign. But the party has had its own defections because of Mr. Trump, including by the woman who led efforts for Hispanic media outreach and who is said to have told colleagues she could not stomach defending him on television.

The Trump campaign is also working to ramp up its fund-raising operations, with the candidate holding at least four events this week.

On Thursday, 70 donors are to meet at Trump Tower in New York, followed by lunch at the Four Seasons hotel. Mr. Trump is expected to attend both the meeting and the lunch.

And on Friday evening, Mr. Trump is to attend a fund-raiser in Richmond, Va., although the invitation that went out to supporters included no host names, no tiers of donors and no request for a specific dollar amount — all basics of most political efforts to raise money.

Mr. Trump has complicated matters by resisting efforts to engage in routine telephone calls to donors and to make gentle requests of people to write checks. Some donors who have been approached have given tepid responses, worried about their names showing up in a public campaign-finance filing.

Some aides have also grumbled privately about a trip Mr. Trump has planned for the end of the month to Scotland and Ireland, to tour his golf courses. Three aides, speaking anonymously to discuss internal frustrations, said they worried that the trip would distract him from his campaign.

The team has spent weeks working on hiring new members of staff, including Jim Murphy, a longtime Republican operative, as the national political director. Mr. Murphy’s predecessor lasted six weeks in the job.

The Trump team has had trouble filling positions, in part because some Republicans they tried to recruit turned down their offers, worried about how a Trump line on their résumé could affect their job prospects. The campaign has spent two months searching for a communications director, after an early prospect fell through, according to one of the three aides and two people who were approached about possible jobs.

Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that the candidate was always planning for a progression.

“The campaign evolves, as it always does, from a primary strategy to a general-election strategy, and there are very different issues,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “He’s going to refocus on jobs and the economy.”

Mr. Trump made clear on Monday that regardless of his campaign staff members’ job titles, he was his own chief strategist. On a conference call first reported by Bloomberg Politics, Mr. Trump belittled his aides for having sent a memo urging surrogates to stop talking about the judge in the Trump University case. Instead, Mr. Trump said, his supporters should keep criticizing the jurist, Gonzalo P. Curiel, and should suggest the reporters asking questions about his comments are “racists.”

Ben Carson, a former 2016 hopeful now supporting Mr. Trump, said party leaders and voters should not expect a different version of Mr. Trump for the general election. “It’s very hard to change somebody,” he said.

Mr. Carson said he believed that Mr. Trump could be perfectly suited for the moment. “We’re in more of a W.W.E. brawl stage as a nation right now,” Mr. Carson said, referring to World Wrestling Entertainment, “and the people who tend to appeal to that group tend to do better.”

Courtesy: NY Times