WASHINGTON – When my syndicate editor told me a few clients had been asking, Don’t you have anyone over there who can write something positive about Donald Trump? I thought, well, that could be fun.
Then, as if the Muses and Fates had conspired to help me in this Olympian task, everything in Trump World changed. Not only did Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort resign following reports of his involvement in Ukrainian politics but Trump hired a woman, Kellyanne Conway, to become his new campaign manager.
And: He suddenly started being nice.
Call it a woman’s touch or the desperation of a faltering candidate, but Trump was even kind of cute Thursday when he expressed regret for some of his ill-chosen words during the campaign, especially those that might have caused personal pain, presumably in others. What’s next, a prayer for forgiveness of sins?
If his comments weren’t strictly an apology, they at least were an acknowledgment of error. They also indicated that Trump can learn new tricks. He’s trainable and, apparently, is open to ideas not his own.
Clearly, this was a tectonic plate-shifting moment in a campaign previously defined by insult and arrogance.
“Sometimes I can be too honest,” he said, brilliantly setting up his opponent’s fatal flaw: “Hillary Clinton is the exact opposite. She never tells the truth.”
It’s no coincidence that Conway, a veteran of the anti-Clinton wars, is also a pollster. Who better to turn things around than someone who pays her bills by measuring the public’s temper? More important, Conway specializes in women voters. Her firm, The Polling Company, Inc./WomanTrend, has monitored women’s thinking on a wide variety of issues since 1995.
Her handiwork, which previously has included telling Republicans to stop using the four-letter word “rape” in campaigns, is in clear evidence with her newest client.
Which means, I suppose, that this positive Trump column is really about Conway.
Will her magic work to shift women and swing voters toward Trump? Which is the real Trump? The guy who insults everybody, or the one who almost says he’s sorry and wants to bring the country together? Can he sustain this new persona and for how long? Attention span isn’t his strong suit, but then neither is it America’s.
We are still soon to the pivot so we’ll wait and see. Unless Trump has been projecting someone else the past year just to capture the conservative, white male voter who was never going to vote for Clinton, anyway, there’s every reason to believe his impetuousness will prevail.
Moreover, it’s questionable whether voters can be swayed by a sudden personality change, even among those who readily grant second chances to the penitent.
Will women suddenly forget everything Trump has said while being “too honest”? Will African-Americans buy Trump’s promise that their lives will be “amazing” if they vote for him? Will the seed Trump planted of Clinton’s bigotry, seeing blacks only as votes, take root?
Such a statement from any other Republican would burst into flames from the volatile combination of hypocrisy and absurdity, but nearly everyone understands that Trump isn’t really a Republican.
The outsider non-politician who regrets saying hurtful words, who is sometimes “too honest” but “will never lie” to the people may surprise us. At least he has offered a sliver of decency to those looking for something to cling to – a little humility, a smattering of remorse, a human connection – to help them justify voting for anybody but Clinton.
Trump has been losing ground essentially because of the cumulative effect of his persistent nastiness. Add to this his off-the-cuff remarks about maybe using nukes, leaving NATO to its own resources, his praise of dictators and strongmen, and he was someone you wouldn’t want anywhere near the football.
Or oneself, as Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote so brilliantly, saying Trump was the person you hoped wouldn’t be seated next to you at a dinner party. On the other hand, I’ve long admired the sentiment popularized by Alice Roosevelt Longworth: If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.
Who better than Trump?
The man is funny, even at his meanest. What many have found repugnant about his style was indeed the secret to his success. People love hearing said aloud what they’re really thinking.
But that was then – and for now at least, it appears to be Conway’s show: No more insults, stick to script, focus on Clinton’s dishonesty.
It just might work.
Kathleen Parker’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.