Trump stormed the primaries by selling himself as a truth-telling firebrand ready to take a hard line on hot-button issues, even if it offended vast swaths of the population or many within his own party.
He embraced the image of a self-funding candidate beholden to no one and promised war against the Republican establishment and conservative elites that he blamed for running the country into the ground.
Now, as the presumptive nominee, Trump is signaling he’s more than willing to refine that image it if will help him defeat likely Democratic presidential nominee in the fall.He sought the counsel of ultimate Washington insider James Baker this week during his whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C., and held separate meetings with Senate Republicans and Speaker (R-Ohio) and his leadership team.
Trump has acknowledged the expense of the general election campaign means he might need help from donors, suggesting a willingness to fundraise ahead of November.
On policy, he’s offered a number of shifts that could improve his appeal to general election voters, or make his populist brand more attractive to the Republican establishment.
Most notably, Trump has walked back his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
He’s now describing the proposal – which provoked criticism from Ryan and other Washington Republicans — as a “temporary ban” that “hasn’t been called for yet” and is only “a suggestion until we find out what’s going on.”
Trump has also expressed a new willingness to consider raising the minimum wage, and to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Trump is hardly the first candidate to shift to the center on policy after a primary fight.
And he isn’t moving too far away from his core brand, which has been a hit with GOP voters.
He still insists that he’ll build a wall along the Southern border and that Mexico will pay for it.
And on the issue of trade — which could be an effective punch against Clinton in the fall — Trump’s rhetoric against foreign governments and U.S. companies seeking shelter abroad remains as strong as ever.
At the same time, Trump is now portraying himself as a leader willing to change his views if he hears a compelling argument.
“Anything I say right now, I’m not the president,” Trump said Friday on Fox & Friends. “Everything is a suggestion. No matter what you say, it’s a suggestion.”
Trump critics see the shifts as evidence that the candidate has no core beliefs.
“He is exhibiting the same shiftiness on policy that Republican voters during the primary said they were tired of: politicians who say one thing during the campaign, and go to Washington to do another.”
But supporters of Trump say the willingness to accept campaign funds or change a position is just another reason why he is a not a typical politician. The willingness to adapt a policy, they say, just shows that Trump isn’t too locked-in to consider new ideas.
“Part of any negotiation is a willingness to consider new ideas, and anyone who has spent any amount of time with him has said he listens and considers what they have to say,” said former Reagan administration official Jeffrey Lord, who is a Trump supporter.
“It’s not going to chase any of his supporters away. His supporters still trust him to shake-up the system. They just recognize that like anyone, he’ll have to negotiate in some instances to get there.”
Trump’s refinement of his image goes beyond policy.
The brash billionaire showed off a different side to his personality during closed-door meetings with lawmakers, many of who suggested they were charmed by the brash billionaire.
Lawmakers interviewed by The Hill said Trump, who is known for his swagger and bravado, was polite, professional, deferential, and willing to listen to their concerns about his candidacy. Ryan described him as “warm and genuine.”
Many Republicans were encouraged by the about-face and see a candidate who is sanding away the rough edges as he seeks to broaden his appeal.
At the same time, by the end of the week Trump was dealing with a controversy over whether he had at one time falsely pretended to be his own publicist in a call to a reporter.
The tabloid-era Trump story shows his brand isn’t going to change that much — and probably that Trumps knows it can’t.
Still, the tweaks in tone and policy are intended to draw more people to the Trump brand, something most political observers think the businessman must do if he is to win in November.
“Everyone knew his positions would require some fine-tuning,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “As long as Trump remains true to the spirit of what got him here, his personality is too big and mastery of the media too strong for it to matter if some of the details changed along the way.”