Has Donald Trump turned over a new leaf?
Why his macho approach won’t work anymore
The smoke of personal attacks, absurd confidence, and swagger is clearing, and we’ve been left with an almost unrecognizable Donald Trump. In the past few weeks, the mogul has embraced decidedly more presidential behavior. It’s completely boring, but there’s a reason it’s happening.
It first showed up in last week’s debate as the country settled in for the latest segment in “Donald Trump Takes America.” Would we get details about how he’s going to convince Mexico to pay for the Great Wall of Trump? Would he finally make Rand Paul cry? Was he going to downgrade Heidi Klum’s hotness even further?
Imagine the disappointment when the star of the show was notably absent from the debate.
Rather than the usual scorched earth tirade against Democrats, other Republicans, and the “losers” who have apparently tampered America’s greatness, Trump was measured, demure, even civil.
He was, in short, a snore.
All of this, mind you, comes with a big fat asterisk of Trump still being Trump. He couldn’t resist baring his teeth at Ohio Gov. John Kasich over his involvement with the Loser Lehman Brothers. He also bragged that he has a license to carry a firearm in New York, so you can never be quite sure when he’s packing a weapon. How terrifying!
Trump continued the yawn-worthy makeover at a rally in Nevada over the weekend. At the Nugget Casino, the National Post observed:
“Gone were the withering attacks on his Republican rivals, the obsessive discussion of his poll numbers and another spate of bombshell remarks. Trump instead focused on more fully introducing himself to voters at an hour-long rally here, underscoring a subtle maturation for a presidential candidate trying to move the spotlight away from his booming reality-TV personality.”
It seems that Trump is trying to reverse the rhetoric on his playground bully shtick, and I don’t think it’s because he’s worried about hurting other people’s feelings.
Trump has catapulted his way to the top by using other candidates as a springboard. He called people losers. He insulted Rand Paul’s looks. He sent Marco Rubio gag gifts to capitalize on his perceived insecurities. He’s made himself appear like the most powerful candidate via castigation.
Trump’s bravado posturing was what people took away from the candidate’s debate performance, rather than his paper-thin policy points. Trumpeting his machismo worked for him, so it seemed that the public (and Trump) would cling to the remnants.
Until the past few weeks, the thought process appears to have been: If he can out-man the rest of the candidates, why can’t Trump out-man the rest of the world?
This isn’t uncommon in campaign politics, according to Jackson Katz. In his 2012 book, “Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood,” Katz chronicled how candidates have used the alpha-male stereotype to get them to the White House.
“Presidential campaigns are a referendum on the state of national masculinity in the U.S.,” he told the BBC.
Katz cites the 1988 election as an example of how effective masculinity can be in getting votes. George H.W. Bush hinged his campaign against Michael Dukakis on chipping away at his masculinity. It worked. H.W. flipped his trailing poll numbers and ended up winning 40 states.
Similarly, Trump has used his masculinity to turn from a reality TV joke into a viable option for next leader of the free world. As Kent G. Bailey, a professor emeritus of clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, put it:
“Donald Trump is the prototypical, archetypal and testosterone-driven alpha male who rules by the sheer force of his personality, imposing physique, quick wit, mastery of repartee and almost hypnotic control over his gathering masses of adoring followers.”
So why would a candidate who’s wormed his way to being one of the top contenders for the GOP nomination abandon what was seemingly a highly successful tactic?
Trump has had little success battling against women so far in his campaign. When he tried to back-pedal on a comment he made about Carly Fiorina’s looks during the second debate, she quickly shut him down. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she fired back to wild applause.
It was, perhaps, the only time that someone landed the last punch against the mogul.
Then there was Megyn Kelly. When Trump waged a Twitter war against the Fox News host by insinuating that she might have been mad with menstrual rage while moderating the first GOP debate, the candidate faced massive backlash from both conservatives and liberals.
Here’s the problem: Trump’s machismo approach doesn’t work when his opponent’s a woman. It’s the reason he ended up with egg on his face when he took on Fiorina and Kelly, and it is the exact same problem that he would face if he squared off with Hillary Clinton in the general election.
If last week’s debate was any preview, Trump is less than inspiring when he reins in his antics. When he isn’t preoccupied with flexing his man-cred, it’s easier to see that Trump is in way over his head on, you know, any substantive policy platforms.
Meanwhile, Clinton is a polished debater, policy wonk, and, worst of all for Trump, a woman. Not to mention one who has embraced femininity with newfound vigor in this election cycle.
Trump picking on junior senators still facing their own campaign growing pains is funny. Trump picking on a seasoned vet and enthusiastic new grandma? Not so much.
The macho entertainer may not have retired from this election just yet, though. If he continues to cede his number one spot in GOP polls, we could see glimpses of the old Trump trying to regain his dominance. But the Donald isn’t running for America’s Alpha Male, he’s running for president.