Donald Trump has one great advantage over all the other presidential candidates: he has no set of core beliefs. He reminds me of that old Groucho Marx line, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them... well, I have others.”
He’s the current frontrunner in a close race with Ted Cruz with the rest of the field training far behind going into the Iowa and New Hampshire voting. The GOP establishment wishes both would go away, but they’re warming to Trump because they think he’d have a better chance of winning in November and can’t stomach Cruz.
Trump is a shameless shape shifter, and that makes him very flexible and dangerous, especially for voters just looking for “change” but not knowing what they want or what they’re voting for until it’s too late.
He can do it easily because, as he has been demonstrating for months, he really believes in nothing but himself.
If he gets the nomination, he won’t be a traditional candidate and won’t play by any rules but his own. If past elections are a guide, he will reach for swing voters by shifting from the far Right toward what passes for the Center in the GOP.
But his candidacy has propelled him to the top of the heap by ignoring political conventional wisdom, and it’s equally likely he will stick to the positions that have kept him the most visible candidate in the daily news cycle.
He may become the GOP standard bearer, but the party poobahs can’t count on his loyalty. He has tapped into a dissatisfaction and rage among primarily white voters fed up with the establishment while offending brown and black voters with his racist and xenophobic rants.
He is a man who has shown he is unencumbered by veracity and is willing to make 180-degree turns while adamantly denying he’s changed anything.
(If Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination, he may run as an independent, in which case he would take a lot of votes away from the GOP candidate; however, if former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg runs as Independent, as he suggested he might this week, the advantage would go to the Republicans.) Here’s some shape shifting to look for: Trump has been running far to the Right in the GOP field, even trying to out-conservative Ted Cruz with evangelicals. He has toted his Bible to some events, albeit fumbling his references. After the convention he’ll leave it at home and start introducing his Orthodox Jewish daughter to show how inclusive he is.
He may soften his anti-immigration rhetoric, probably claiming victory for the decrease in the number of illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border, even insisting the high number of returnees – 140,000 – was a direct result of his vow to get tough on the problem, although that’s been the trend since 2009.
Never one to get bogged down by the facts, he’ll may claim victory and say there is no urgency in building the Trump Wall along the border.
The anti-immigration card has worked well for him in the early campaign, tapping a surprisingly large reservoir of xenophobia in an anxious electorate, but staying on that track risks any chance of conceding the sizable Hispanic and African-American vote to the Democrats.
He’ll make the Israel trip he postponed last year and reiterate his vow to move the US embassy to Jerusalem – don’t they all? – but “at the right time.” He’ll repeat Mitt Romney’s promise not to push Israel into peace talks, saying he’ll wait until the Israelis and Palestinians call to say they’re both ready. And he’ll try to parlay that into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endorsement.
Assuming Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, Trump, a three-times divorced admitted adulterer, will preach the sanctity of marriage while attacking Bill Clinton’s philandering, which he’ll blame on Hillary.
The misogynistic Trump will declare he loves and respects all women and insist his smarmy remarks about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly’s menstrual period or Hillary’s bathroom breaks were intentionally twisted by the media. He may even trot out one of his wives to vow that he is a true feminist.
Sarah Palin may be an asset when going after the GOP’s lunatic fringe but she’s a decided liability in the general election and will be sent back to Alaska, where she can keep an eye on Russia from her porch.
Trump will say Hillary’s “Restart Button” with the Russians was naïve and relations only got worse on her watch. But Donald will “get along very well” with Vladimir Putin, who has called Trump “bright and talented” and an “absolute leader.” Of course, that’s not quite what Vlad said but it’s what Donald heard, and that’s what counts. He called Putin “highly respected” and he feels they’ll “be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace.”
He has been fending off attacks by Cruz, Jeb Bush and other rivals that he is not a real conservative by reminding them that Ronald Reagan was also once a Democrat but saw the light from the Right. Like the Republican demigod, Trump is saying, “I’ve evolved.” Look for him to try to be Reagan with a bad haircut.
He will deny he ever wanted to ban all Muslims, just the bad ones, and to do that he’ll establish a tougher, more effective vetting process.
He’ll keep hammering on the Iran nuclear deal. He’ll say only he can make a flawed agreement work because the Iranians will know he’s no wimp like Obama and he’s willing to get tough on enforcement.
His assault on media will continue for a very good reason.
It works. Very well. He has played it like a virtuoso, garnering free media, setting the rules, controlling the news cycle with dramatic announcements and extreme rhetoric, phoning in his interviews and deflecting tough questions. He’s good for ratings, so TV moguls will try to stay on his good side lest he bless the competition with his presence.
Something else won’t change if Trump is the GOP nominee: He’ll still be an arrogant bully, a liar, a misogynist and a hater with an ego that would overflow the Grand Canyon.