I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Television anchors and pundits aren’t exactly the same in private life as when they’re sounding off in front of the cameras. They are quieter, calmer, even more restrained. Well, most of them.
Since there are few things the media love more than a secret tape, the surreptitiously recorded remarks of Donald Trump’s convention manager was a big story—especially when they were conveniently leaked to the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NBC. It’s almost as if someone wanted it out there.
Paul Manafort told Republican leaders this about Trump: “The part he’s been playing is evolving…When he's out on the stage, when he's talking about the kinds of things he's talking about on the stump, he's projecting an image that's for that purpose…The image is going to change.”
Aha! Trump’s detractors went nuts. It’s all an act, the Huffington Post declared. He’s a con man!
Sorry to tamp down the excitement, but this is pretty standard fare. All presidential candidates project a certain image in front of the cameras. All try to moderate their message as they approach a general election. You could look it up.
Sure, as I wrote last week, it’s important that Trump is no longer constantly attacking people on Twitter as losers and clowns, and will give the first of a series of promised policy speeches, this one on foreign affairs in Washington.
Manafort, who knew his remarks would undoubtedly leak, told Chris Wallace yesterday he meant that “we were evolving the campaign, not the candidate.” The veteran strategist said on “Fox News Sunday” that he was reassuring RNC members that Trump would be speaking out in more than just rally settings, where he tends to be more bombastic.
But much more important than Trump toning down his rhetoric is the billionaire emphasizing his more moderate positions.
On the “Today” show last week, Trump said he would try to change the GOP platform on abortion to include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother if the procedure were outlawed. He said he would raise taxes on the rich.
And asked about North Carolina’s controversial law restricting bathroom choices for transgender people, Trump said the law should not have been changed—for which he was attacked by Ted Cruz.
This led to a New York Times story about how Trump has always been friendly with gays. “He has nurtured long friendships with gay people, employed gay workers in prominent positions, and moved with ease in industries where gays have long exerted influence, like entertainment.”
That is what makes Trump a wild card if he makes it to the fall election. He’s not a hard-liner on social issues, he wants to protect Medicare and Social Security, he wants to tax hedge-fund managers—and yet he’s the Republican nominee in a party that has moved to the right.
Speaking of evolving campaigns, the Washington Post detailed in a front-page piece yesterday how Cruz has shifted his positions on such issues as immigration, same-sex marriage and military spending: “Time and again he has shifted, shaded or obfuscated his policy positions — piling on new ideas, which sometimes didn’t fit with the old.”
There’s no question that Trump’s softening demeanor is part of an important campaign story—and if skeptics want to jump on his playing a “part,” so be it. Ronald Reagan was an actor, after all.
But the more important evolution, and a story worth pursuing, is in Trump’s political persona—and that of his chief rival.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.