I don’t believe Donald Trump can actually pivot to a run a centrist, dignified campaign—one that will make him look “presidential,” as his advisers have promised. But he’ll probably try, and it’s on the media to point out all the inconsistencies that would entail. I don’t have a lot of faith in the media, so I expect a general-election campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton to be closer than it should be. We had a small foreshadowing of the problem on Thursday, when Trump recanted his earlier stands on tax cuts and the minimum wage, but got much more attention for an idiotic, borderline-racist tweet about tacos and Cinco de Mayo. By the end of the day, the media’s storyline was “Trump, Clinton spar over tacos.”
Trump’s tax-policy paper, released last September, is actually the most detailed plan he has put out during the campaign so far. It is big. It is brash. It adds $9.5 trillion to the deficit. It cuts taxes for the top .1 percent by an average of $1.3 million. When he announced the plan, Trump defended those tax cuts for the rich: “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible,” he told reporters.
Now, apparently, someone has told him that a vocal chunk of his base consists of angry, white, working-class men, and so Trump, for a day at least, ditched his own tax plan like it was an aging supermodel girlfriend. “I am not necessarily a huge fan of that,” he said. (“That” being his own plan, mind you.) “I am so much more into the middle class who have just been absolutely forgotten in our country.”
Likewise, Trump seemed to reverse himself on the minimum wage on Wednesday night. At a November debate he declared, “I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is,” adding that “taxes are too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world.” But the day he became the presumptive GOP nominee, he told CNN he was open to a hike. “I’m looking at that, I’m very different from most Republicans.”
This is Trump’s version of the Etch-a-Sketch moment Mitt Romney’s advisors promised in 2012—the point at which the nominee can ease up on the hard-right stands he took to win the nomination, and present a moderate persona for the general election. It didn’t work for Romney—actually, Romney never really made the pivot. Will it work for Trump?
With a little help from the media, it might.
For most of Thursday, cable news-beat reporters did note the contradiction between GOP-primary Trump and new general-election Trump on the minimum wage and tax cut. But both issues were overshadowed by Trump’s moronic “I love Hispanics” taco-bowl tweet, which dominated the afternoon news cycle. Yes, it was mostly mocked; a BuzzFeed reporter attempted to debunk Trump’s claim that Trump Grill served taco bowls—it doesn’t—but it turned out to have come from Trump Café in the same building. Trump probably doesn’t deserve any Pinocchios for that; he deserves scorn and revulsion for trying to do “Hispanic” outreach with a taco-bowl tweet on Cinco de Mayo, especially given the ugly things he has said about undocumented Mexican immigrants.