Donald Trump hasn’t “gone mainstream” or pivoted to the general election. His latest — in the words of cable television hosts — more “regretful” speeches aren’t examples of a change of heart. No matter how much we want a different, better Trump, one who could make this presidential race more of a choice and less of a horrorshow — we aren’t going to get it.
Pundits thought they saw signs of change last week. In the wake of the recent riots in response to the police shooting of a black man in Milwaukee, Trump gave a speech in the city aimed at African-Americans — but really, he gave a speech about African-Americans aimed at white people. Then he did the same thing in a 93-percent white town in Michigan, telling the audience that black Americans live in poverty and have no jobs (which is not, you know, true). Supporters in the crowd agreed with Trump’s assessment, though, and that’s what’s most important to him. Whether it’s his rhetoric on building a wall or banning Muslims, Trump’s just trying to tell people — specifically, white working-class people — what he thinks they want to hear.
The recent hiring of Steve Bannon of Breitbart News to run Trump’s campaign is more proof that he’s determined to stay the course he’s been on all along. Breitbart’s wholehearted support for Trump has made the once conservative, now nationalist website more popular than ever. Even before Trump, it was known for wild conspiracy theories and attracting racists; in 2010, it destroyed the life of a black federal employee with falsified video and claims of “reverse racism,” and more recently it has embraced the “alt-right” and anti-Semitism that seems to follow it like a cloud. No wonder former Klan head and current Senate candidate David Duke loved the Trump campaign’s hire.
Trump may have told a closed-door meeting of Hispanic leaders that he now supports amnesty for undocumented immigrants — a massive, almost unbelievable change in strategy — and he might assure a rally crowd that he wants to do more for black America. But that’s not a sign of a Trump ready to compete in the general election. That’s just show business.
Trump sees what we’re all seeing: The polls he loves are betraying him. He’s losing swing states he needs to win, like Florida and Pennsylvania. In an effort to win back mainstream support, he’s starting to “apologize” for his past insults and reach out to minority voters — not because he necessarily believes in the work of minority leaders, but because he thinks that doing so can help his poll numbers. In hiring Bannon, he’s still putting his campaign in the hands of someone known for expressing his dislike for immigrants and minorities both in meetings and on the pages of the website he controlled. He’s still willing to bow to the interests of self-described “racial realists” who adhere to racism based in pseudoscience, and white nationalists who believe that making America whiter would make it better.
Despite the past week, despite two speeches that sounded almost rational, despite a potential change in strategy on immigration, there’s no pivot for Trump. There’s no change of direction, no attitude adjustment. This is who he is, and this is what his campaign has become. Trump’s recent speeches haven’t been signs of a better Trump. They’ve been moments in time in which Trump’s campaign stood aboard a rapidly sinking ship and thought, Let’s change the deck chair arrangements. There will be no new Trump, no better Trump. There is only this Trump, and this Trump is rotten to the core.