Donald Trump (Reuters/Mike Carlson)

Donald Trump is a con artist — and his general-election strategy proves it

Trump's plan to completely repackage himself to become more palatable in November is all the evidence you need


Bob Cesca
April 25, 2016 3:58PM (UTC)

There's an unspoken tradition in presidential politics, at least on the Republican side, to lean rightward during the primaries as a means of accumulating an adequate level of support from the conservative base. After the convention is over, the nominee then gradually pivots toward the middle for the general election in order to pick up moderate Republican voters. These days, however, the pivot is more like an imperceptible sidestep from the extreme far right to the not-as-awful-but-still-really-conservative far right.

At the end of the day, it's more of a shift in policy and tone, and one that's very seldom noticeable by casual followers of the campaign. Only those of us insane enough to cover this stuff on a moment-to-moment basis can tell when the change takes place, but it almost always does.

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What we've rarely observed in modern politics is a complete change in political persona. Why? Because it reveals a too-obvious duplicity in the candidate. In other words, it becomes transparently conspicuous that the nominee in question is a complete fraud. It tells us that the nominee is playing a character -- that they're putting on an act in order to win over voters, not sharing their genuine self, whatever that might actually look like. Primary voters, in this case, will end up seeing a completely different candidate in the general than the one they voted for in the primaries and caucuses.

In the rare instances when this actually occurs, no one ever confesses to the chicanery, at least not while the campaign is still active. Maybe it'd come out in the wash after the election, perhaps in a tell-all book by a former staffer or in a post-mortem published by a journalist who covered the campaign.

And then there's Donald Trump.

From the start of his campaign, and even prior to his announcement, it was apparent that Trump adopted a reality show style mixed with a form of Twitter trolling that's fairly recognizable to many of us, but which still functions nicely outside of the Twittersphere. Since last June, Trump has orchestrated his brand of hype-machine politics knowing that Americans would eat it up, not unlike they do the substance-free scripted drama we observe on, say, "The Apprentice."

This strategy reveals the obvious: Trump is playing a character and his supporters have been voting for a scam artist. How do we know this? His chief strategist, Paul Manafort admitted it.

The Washington Post reported:

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Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee in a closed-door briefing here Thursday afternoon that his candidate has been playing a “part” on the campaign trail, but is starting to pivot toward presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.”

“He gets it,” Manafort told RNC members. “The part that he’s been playing is now evolving into the part that you’ve been expecting. The negatives will come down, the image is going to change, but ‘Crooked Hillary’ is still going to be ‘Crooked Hillary.’”

"The part he's been playing" is pretty unequivocal. The fictitious Trump from the primaries will be swapped for an all new fictitious character for the general election, should Trump get the nomination.

Manafort continued: "You can’t change somebody’s character, but you can change the way a person presents himself." Also, for what it's worth, Trump previously confessed to the same on Fox News Channel earlier this year: "I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to."

Now, sure, some part of the Real Trump is in there somewhere and the characters he's playing are likely sourced from the deepest, darkest regions of his orange brain. But anyone who's watched him operate at length knows that Trump isn't burdened by core values, and this enables him to do and say anything he wants.

Convenient. Trump played the role of a xenophobic, violence-stoking zealot for the primary, which his supporters completely accepted, and, in a matter of weeks, he'll transform himself into a totally new character -- because he can. Indeed, the most hilarious part of his forthcoming transformation is that the very people he suckered into believing in Primary Trump are so ensconced in their brainwashed cult-like Fox News bubble, they simply won't believe that the variant Nominee Trump is fake. In fact, I'll go one further: They likely won't even see a difference between the two.

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Along those lines, there's a very strong likelihood that much of the broader conservative entertainment complex is occupied by fakers who are role-playing as conservative screechers. Sadly, the real money in political media is on the right, especially in radio where other forms of personality-based talk shows have mostly disappeared, leaving conservative talk as the last man standing. Even before 9/11, when conservative media spiked, formerly wacky morning zoo deejays like Glenn Beck made the leap to conservative talk.

Again, all the money is in conservative talk, and if you can sell your soul for a lucrative enough check, you can build a multi-million dollar empire. Just invent a character carved from the Rush Limbaugh block of cheese; say deliberately incendiary things to get yourself on the map; and then collect gigantic checks. From there, publish a series of ghost-written issue books that'll be bulk-purchased by Koch-ish financiers; build a website with plenty of swag for sale; get a regular spot on Fox News; and watch the money roll in. Trump knows this. Among all candidates on both sides, Trump is arguably the most savvy about media, and has therefore manipulated it at every turn. It stands to reason, then, that he's exploiting the fact that conservatives are accustomed to personalities who are playing a role. If his fanboys don't care, why should he?

So far, for Trump, it's working.

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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.

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