What have they done to Donald Trump?
Thursday night, his campaign unveiled Trump 2.0, a newly engineered candidate designed to stick to the road, avoid the ditches and keep from saying anything nutty.
What they unleashed was the un-Frankenstein, necessary as New Coke and consumer friendly as Google Glass.
In his first address since handing the campaign over to Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News, and bringing pollster Kellyanne Conway aboard as campaign manager, Trump spoke to a crowd in Charlotte, a de-fanged, de-clawed, demure shadow of the bombastic blueblood who stormed to the Republican nomination like the Tazmanian Devil.
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Conway has said that she just wants Trump to be Trump. Something went wrong. What she delivered Thursday was a bug in a bottle.
He read from the Teleprompter. He never does that. He stayed on message. Highly unusual. He admitted the occasional verbal short-circuit. Who does that?
Clearly the guy has a new boss, and clearly he’s on his best behavior. Problem is, in trying to correct his free-swinging style, his advisers have clearly forgotten that underneath it all, despite their shrieks and swoons, the audience loved the old Frankenstein.
New Trump touched the bases as usual – he’s an outsider who will change all the terrible ills of the nation in defense, immigration and trade – but seemed all but deflated as he did so. His natural speaking approach is that of a compulsive braggart, and like it or not, he pulls it off with style.
In his earlier appearances across the region, he spoke off the cuff, built the crowd up and when he got to immigration, he let them take over. “Build the Wall!” they would chant and he would nod sagely for a moment, promise to do that and add, “and Mexico will pay for it, believe me!”
It drove them wild.
Thursday night, he got to border protection, and the crowd did their stuff. Trump 2.0 let the moment pass. He looked down the middle, between the flanking Teleprompter screens for a second, and noted as a quiet aside, “We will build the wall.”
His heart didn’t seem to be in it, and the chants died away.
Trump 2.0 apparently has been programmed to be repentant, as well. A month after a stinging assault on Blue Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq, Trump 2.0 admitted he sometimes stumbles.
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words, or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
He limped on, hitting the points prepared for him – he’ll vaporize ISIS, the media is evil, NAFTA has got to go, he’ll outsmart China and chaotic street violence will stop. “It will end and it will end very quickly.”
In the end, he got polite applause. In the past, for the finale, the Clap-O-Meter was at red line.
Donald Trump is a new man.
And, for the first time in 18 months, a little boring.
Love him or hate him, there was grand political spectacle in his candidacy this year. It isn’t often you get to see a 70-year-old man roaring for the imprisonment of a 68-year-old woman. He perked things up.
What have they done to him, these new bosses of his? And, more importantly, just how long will he let it go on?