“I am who I am,” says Donald Trump, getting in touch with his inner Popeye. (I know it’s “I yam what I yam,” but cut me some slack here, Popeye purists.) Trumpy the railer man was assuring his interviewer that he’s definitely not going to get all Wimpy moving forward. That’s both fair and foul.
It’s fair because he’s gotten to where he is with a nasty mix of bigotry and hateful insults, spewing his sewage to millions who have made him their hero. Of course, that toxic mix is cheap-shot demagoguery and is as foul as it can be. But it’s the @realDonaldTrump, so why should he pretend he’s anyone else?
He has been under a lot of pressure to do just that from seasoned Republicans who say that he needs to turn down the spite spigot and try to act like a serious presidential candidate now that he is, in fact, the GOP nominee. Their contention is that while the hard-right-wingers in their party got whipped up enough by his simple-minded belligerence to put him at the top of their heap, the general electorate — even those who can’t abide the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton — might be horrified by his repeated crass cruelty.
The campaign brought on a political pro, Paul Manafort, whose job it was to somehow make Donald Trump appear to be at least minimally plausible to be president of the United States. Manafort deposed the first campaign leader, Corey Lewandowski, whose main strategy was “Let Trump Be Trump.” Lewandowski got to be vicariously Popeye, and among the ways he enforced his approach was to harshly grab the arm of a female reporter. He was accused of assault, but the charges were dropped. Later, thanks to Manafort, Lewandowski was dropped.
Thus began the efforts to clean up Donny’s act. Occasionally, his handlers could even get him to read off a teleprompter and not drop one of his verbal bombs for an entire speech. The problem was that Trump hated being handled. “I don’t want to change,” he exclaimed. Now he’s made that crystal-clear.
Now it’s Manafort’s turn to suffer the knife in the back, and he’s departing. Trump has brought in some new blood to call the shots going forward. Stephen Bannon — who has been chairman of the Breitbart News site, aka the Donald Trump propaganda organ — switches to campaign CEO, making official the unofficial role he had been playing. He’s a strong advocate of carpet-bombing politics. Kellyanne Conway, who’s mainly a pollster, also is from the “whatever it takes to win” school. She becomes campaign manager. Manafort, who would have been a figurehead, has decided to take the job and shove it. He can be out making real money in his normal pursuit, which is as a consultant to world despots and those close to Vladimir Putin. Oh yeah, the disclosures about all that had become a major embarrassment to Trump. Who knew he could be embarrassed?
With his new leadership team, Popeye has just fed himself a big can of spinach. He will be running an uninhibited campaign, meaning extremely mean. Obnoxious is what the Donald does best. He’s not a nuance kinda guy. Pardon the repulsive imagery, but he’s not very convincing unless he’s letting it all hang out.
The problem for him is his spurts of rank rants have been most corrosive to him. He’s tanking in the polls. Also, Hillary Clinton thrives when being treated like dirt — it’s fertile ground for her. Of course, by Election Day, Donald “I am who I am” Trump will let us all show who we are. Chances are, we’ll all first want to take a shower.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.