As Campaign Management Shakes Up Again, Donald Trump Softens His Tone
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's been a week of upheaval for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Maybe we should make that another week of upheaval. There were campaign shake-ups, a different tone and, this weekend, the first round of general election television ads. NPR's Scott Detrow reports from Dimondale, Mich., where Trump held a rally last night.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The big question at the beginning of the week - the big question all summer, really - was whether Trump would ever broaden out and soften up his message, whether he'd ever try to appeal to anyone who wasn't the true believer core of voters that carried him to the Republican nomination.
As June has turned into July into August and as Trump has kept making incendiary comments and falling behind in the polls, a lot of Republicans were starting to give up hope. Longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy talked to NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE MURPHY: Well, his problem is the only voters that have liked him are a little less than half the voters in the Republican primaries. But that's over now, and everybody understands that except Donald Trump. In the general election, he's alienating all those swing voters by the very style that helped him in the primaries. So I don't think he knows his act doesn't play anymore, and I don't think he knows how to change it.
DETROW: Trump insisted he was who he was, that he wasn't going to change, but then a campaign reshuffle. Trump brought in two new staffers to run his campaign, including Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, a hard right-wing firebrand website known for throwing bombs at the political and media establishment. That had many, if not most, observers predicting Trump would go all in on the hard-line insurgent and nationalist tone that won him the Republican primaries. But a surprising thing happened in North Carolina when Trump gave his first speech after the shake-up.
Trump did something he's rarely, if ever, done publicly. He kind of apologized. He acknowledged he had not chosen the right words or said the wrong thing at several points over the course of the campaign.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)
DONALD TRUMP: And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.
DETROW: And Trump made a point to reach out to African-Americans.
TRUMP: We are going to work with everybody in the African-American community in the inner cities, and what a big difference that is going to make. It's one of the things I most look forward to doing.
DETROW: The irony? The very next day Paul Manafort announced he was resigning from the campaign. Manafort is a longtime D.C. operative, and he was brought in earlier this year to try to make the anti-establishment insurgent just a bit more establishment. It never really worked, leading to moments like this when Manafort was questioned on "Fox News."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There are reports out there that your campaign is in turmoil, that you personally, as campaign chairman, have lost control of your candidate. Your response?
PAUL MANAFORT: Well, first of all, the candidate is in control of his campaign. That's number one. And I'm in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign.
DETROW: But here's the thing about that much-discussed softer tone. It wasn't really present in the hard-edge ads Trump released Friday.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "TWO AMERICAS: IMMIGRATION")
BRUCE MCGILL: In Hillary Clinton's America, the system stays rigged against Americans. Syrian refugees flood in. Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay.
DETROW: And by Friday night, Trump was back to his usual self. Wearing a Make America Great Again hat at a packed Michigan rally, Trump reached out to black voters again, but he did so in a much different tone.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)
TRUMP: Why do you have to lose? You're living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
DETROW: Trump predicted he could eventually earn 95 percent of the African-American vote. But right now, Trump's actually polling under 1 percent with black voters in some national and state polls. African-Americans are just one of the many demographic groups that have turned away from Trump over the last few months. That's a trend that Trump needs to turn around as quickly as possible if he has any hope of closing the gap with Hillary Clinton and having a shot at winning the White House. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Dimondale, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.