Former President Trump is doing something shocking — he’s running a campaign that is starting to look quite conventional.
This week alone, Trump has issued several policy proposals. He has announced the hiring of seasoned senior staff in the first-caucus state of Iowa. And he has visited East Palestine, Ohio in the wake of the Feb. 3 train derailment, using the power of his former office to intensify the spotlight on residents — and on himself.
Altogether, the current tone is quite different from the tumult the American public has been used to since Trump began his first campaign for the White House almost eight years ago.
Trump allies are reveling in the change.
“People think they know what to expect of Donald Trump in 2024. They are wrong,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime friend and adviser to the former president. “They recognize the caustic social media messages, they recognize his tactic of giving a nickname to every competitor. But they ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Caputo and others note the seasoned campaigners who are around the former president from the start this time around, including senior adviser Susie Wiles, renowned for her knowledge of campaigns in Florida in particular, pollster Tony Fabrizio and policy adviser Vince Haley.
Trump has also taken to releasing more detailed proposals than were seen previously, especially during his 2016 seat-of-the-pants campaign.
The campaign is currently gathering these ideas under the overall rubric of “Agenda47.” Trump, the 45th president, would also become the 47th president if he won a second term in 2024.
This month, he has advocated typically hard-line measures to fight crime, to underline his opposition to so-called ESG investing — the acronym stands for investing which factors in environmental, social and governance concerns — and to boost American energy.
While there was plenty of Trumpian rhetoric, there were at least some specifics.
On crime, Trump said he would require local police departments in receipt of Department of Justice grants to return to the ultra-controversial stop-and-frisk policies of the past, and to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “to arrest and deport criminal aliens.”
On ESG, he promised to issue an executive order if reelected that would prohibit the use of such criteria in managing retirement accounts.
On energy, he said he would once again take the United States out of the Paris accords on climate change and “rapidly issue approvals for all worthy, energy infrastructure projects.”
The point is less the political rights and wrongs of these proposals than the fact that they are being made at all.
One open question, of course, is the degree to which Trump’s shift is being driven by the desire to fend off the challenge likely to be posed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
DeSantis has said next to nothing about his 2024 plans but he is widely expected to announce a campaign in the next few months. Polls show him to be clearly Trump’s most serious competitor for the GOP nomination.
DeSantis, unlike Trump, still has his hands on the levers of power. He has been using that power to make headline-grabbing announcements with national resonance for conservatives.
On Thursday, DeSantis announced a push for stricter immigration measures in his state, including the mandatory use of E-Verify by private as well as public employers, and a revocation of the right to in-state tuition rates for unauthorized migrants.
DeSantis has previously pushed back on a proposed Advanced Placement course in African American studies, on the grounds that it allegedly put forth too much of a political agenda. And he has successfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to set up a grand jury to look into whether there was malfeasance in the claims made about COVID-19 vaccines.
With all that going on from his likely nemesis, Trump could hardly do nothing on the policy front.
But the former president has his advantages in other areas too, not least the symbolic heft of the office he held for four years.
He put that to use on Wednesday during his visit to East Palestine, Ohio.
Trump accused the Biden administration of “indifference and betrayal” of the people in the small eastern Ohio town. Speaking from behind a lectern adorned with his name, he contended that the people there needed “answers and results” rather than “excuses.”
The relative decorum of the speech was a marked contrast to how Trump sometimes behaved in office, even in disaster zones. In 2017, visiting Puerto Rico after a hurricane, he famously threw paper towels into the crowd in the manner of a basketball player taking a free throw.
It would be foolish to exaggerate the extent to which Trump has gone conventional, of course.
The inflammatory rhetoric still goes hand-in-hand with these more modulated moves. He continues to falsely claim the 2020 election was rigged and to minimize the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. He will keep blasting away in vicious terms at prosecutors whose probes are targeting him.
The MAGA Trump base, therefore, is in no danger of thinking he has done soft or sold out to the hated “swamp.” Pence hints at spring decision on 2024 bid in NBC interview Pence breaks with DeSantis over Ukraine position: Putin will not stop at Ukraine
But there has been a noticeable shift nonetheless — one that even Republicans who have been skeptical of Trump can’t help but notice.
“What you see,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, “is somebody who still declares himself the outsider, trying to play very much an insider game.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.