Will Trump 2.0 ever show up?
Donald Trump, for all his theatrics, has repeatedly hinted that at some point he'd tone down the rhetoric and begin to act like a more traditional candidate. "Once you get to a certain level, it changes," he told Greta van Susteren last month about his speaking style and approach to campaigning. "I will be changing very rapidly."
On CBS News' "Face the Nation," he told host John Dickerson that President would be a "much different person" than candidate Trump.
We've seen glimpses of a more presidential -- or at least less purposefully off-putting -- Trump as recently as his scripted AIPAC speech earlier this week. We also saw it at the last Republican debate, where he mostly refrained from childish taunts.
We've seen this before, too, at various times this cycle, most notably as voting got underway for the first three contests, when he seemed to show some restraint. "Watch his latest interviews and you'll see someone becoming a better politician -- shifting and moving the pieces around him with a greater degree of knowledge of the terrain," the conservative writer Ben Domenech said on the eve of the Iowa caucus. "This is what should really scare Republican elites: It's learning."
Yet Trump 2.0, a candidate who would keep much of his essential weirdness and entertainment value but tones down the cruelty and vulgarity, never really materializes.
Just days after that AIPAC speech, which went as well as it could have possibly gone for the front-runner, he's once again out there saying and doing things that would disqualify any normal candidate in any normal year. There was the renewed, seemingly out-of-nowhere Twitter assault on Megyn Kelly, which was followed by a rambling interview with the Washington Post editorial board where he kept talking about the size of his hands. Then, of course, there were the vicious attacks on Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, and her appearance.
The argument could be made that all this is working: Trump is, after all, still the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. But it's practically unheard of in modern times for a Republican front-runner to not have completely crushed his rivals at this point in the calendar: Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain were all but their parties presumptive nominees by the end of March in their cycles (Romney took until the end of May to clinch the nomination, the Wall Street Journal points out, though his nomination never really seemed to be in doubt) and in each case the party had begun to coalesce around them. Trump, meanwhile, can't get to 50 percent of the Republican vote in any of the states he's competed in.
And that's not all. Despite Trump's delegate lead, all of his congressional endorsements, with the exception of Sen. Jeff Sessions, have come from a handful of backbenchers. It shouldn't be news when Republican lawmakers say they'll definitely support the party's nominee come November, but it is when they say that about Trump. His promises of dealmaking and endless winning have done little to win them over, it seems.
This will prove to be a major problem going forward for Trump, because every time a Republican demurs when asked about supporting the GOP candidate in the general election, the more likely it looks like the party will be routed in the general election if he's the nominee. This, in turn, makes fewer Republicans say they support him, and we've come full circle.
And we're not just talking about Republican electeds and insiders, either: exit polls indicate an astonishingly high number of Republican voters, some 37 percent, say they might go third party if he's the nominee. Why? There's some evidence to suggest many voters just don't trust him. The violence at his rallies has drawn their attention, and while it's true that 80 percent of his supporters approve of the way he's handled the uproar, only 50 percent of GOP voters approve, and two in three of all voters disapprove, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll released this week.
Moreover, in a week in which a U.S. ally was dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack that killed over 30 people and injured over a hundred, Trump has spent a couple of days in a cheap fight over the relative attractiveness of the wife of his chief opponent.
We've finally reached the point, it would seem, where Trump's theatrics are backfiring. Yes, I realize that almost every pundit has written some variation of that sentence in the last nine months and come to regret it. And I'm not saying that he won't be the Republican nominee, or even the next president. But if he ever had a chance to unite a substantial majority of the party behind him going into the general election, he may have squandered it.
Maybe he can't help himself. At the age of 69, he could just be set in his ways as a showman to do anything to get his much attention for himself as possible, consequences be damned. Or maybe he thought Trump 2.0 would be an unnecessary creation -- he's still winning, so why change?
Whatever the reason, he's hasn't offered enough evidence to buttress the argument, which his surrogates and sympathizers now push, both on- and off-the record, that the Real Donald has the judgment to to be commander-in-chief. Instead, he's kept the freak show going long after it should have been dropped, or at least re-tooled into something more palatable to voters outside his base of support.
And that's a shame, if only because after months of putting up with the chaos and the bugs in this version, Americans are ready and waiting for the rollout of Trump 2.0.