On Thursday night, Donald Trump gave a speech that contained a surprising admission of regret for his past statements. This prompted some observers to wonder if the GOP nominee had finally “pivoted” his freewheeling campaign to address the general election.
“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,” Trump said at Thursday’s rally, reading prepared remarks on a teleprompter. “I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
On Friday, Trump traveled to Louisiana to survey the damage from flooding there.
The new tone came after yet another changing of the guard, and as Trump fell well behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. Campaign manager Paul Manafort is out amid criticism of his ties to Russia’s government, and Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway are now leading the team.
But the Clinton campaign pushed back strongly against the notion that the brash real estate mogul is toning things down for the overall electorate, which is far more moderate than that of the Republican primaries.
The Clinton campaign and its allies pointed to Trump’s first general-election TV ad, which was released Friday, as proof. The ad falsely claims that Clinton wants “open borders” and that she would keep undocumented immigrants with criminal histories in the country.
“In case you thought for a split second Trump was genuine about feeling regret, he is back to demonizing immigrants again in his new ad today,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon wrote on Twitter.
Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson was similarly dismissive of the idea that Trump himself was changing as a candidate:
Sounds more like Donald Trump’s TELEPROMPTER regrets things he says, while Donald Trump stands behind them. https://t.co/eIjPn8iWj3
— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) August 19, 2016
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, meanwhile, released a statement Friday saying Manafort’s departure “doesn’t end the odd bromance Trump has with Putin.” Mook’s statement noted that Trump himself has echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points on some issues and that Trump continues to have other advisers with ties to Russian interests.
Earlier this week, Mook also told reporters that Trump’s pick of Bannon to run his campaign means the real estate mogul would “double down on more hateful and divisive rhetoric, more conspiracy theories.” Mook also said Trump had won the battle within his campaign to “be himself.”
Even Clinton herself has insisted that Trump is not pivoting, telling supporters in Ohio on Wednesday, “There is no new Donald Trump. This is it.”
The coordinated message all the way from the candidate on down suggests that the campaign wants to prevent any message about a toned-down Trump from gaining traction. But Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who works for pro-Clinton super-PAC Priorities USA, told Yahoo News that Trump has become “well defined” negatively in voters’ minds already. (A Washington Post poll found that 61 percent of registered voters polled early this month have an unfavorable view of Trump.) And even if Trump were able to sustain a new tone until Election Day, the airwaves will be inundated with ads reminding voters of his past statements, Garin argued.
“An important part of our mission is to make sure people don’t forget who he really is,” the pollster said. “And to keep the true Donald Trump in front of people’s faces all the way until Election Day.”