Did we see a “kinder, gentler Trump” yesterday?

The daily White House briefing on the pandemic situation yesterday included some seriously sobering news. There seems to be little dispute among many, though not all medical authorities that our best-case scenario at this point will leave the United States death toll well into six figures. If social distancing collapses, seeing it reach into the millions still isn’t out of the question. The President and his medical advisers weren’t pulling any punches and they let everyone know that we need to be prepared for some grim times before we come out the other side of this thing.

But at the same time, we also seemed to see a different side of Donald Trump. Rather than mixing in his normal shots at his detractors and political opponents, he genuinely seemed to soften his tone a bit. His remarks contained positive statements about some Democrats he’s been at odds with recently. It sounded like more of a reminder that we’re all in this together. And the media noticed. (BBC)

Just days after attacking Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, mocking her name and calling her incompetent on Twitter, the president said he had a “really great conversation” with her and detailed the support the federal government was providing her state.

Last Friday, he had suggested that if state leaders were not “appreciative” of him, he wouldn’t talk to them.

On Tuesday, he recounted conversations with Democratic governors in California and Louisiana.

The new call from the White House was to continue the current mitigation efforts for an additional 30 days; that even if things go from bad to worse in the weeks to come, the efforts will pay off.

It’s definitely true that President Trump was being uncharacteristically generous toward various Democratic governors while delivering disappointing news without his usual tendency to try to put a positive (perhaps too positive at times) spin on the situation. But I would caution anyone who thinks that Trump just underwent some sort of personality transplant or that he had a George Bailey moment the night before to not get too carried away.

As many of us have suggested ever since Trump came down that golden escalator to announce his presidential bid, the man rarely does anything without calculating the pros and cons of the situation. When he sets a particular tone during an appearance, it’s done to produce a response. The majority of the time, he takes a combative stance, tearing into his opponents with abandon. He does that because he knows that’s what keeps his base fired up. Trump was largely elected by people who were sick of the same vanilla politicians from both parties reciting carefully measured and focus-group-tested lines that sound like come from a high school drama club play. His base wanted a fighter and that’s what he delivers.

This has led many of his MSM detractors to conclude that the acerbic, combative person they see on Twitter is the real, one and only Donald Trump. But the man has been figuring out how to play people and work a crowd for a long time. In show biz terms, he knows how to read a room. In this case, the “room” in question is the whole country, if not the entire world.

Trump was in the middle of telling people something they didn’t want to hear. A staggering number of Americans will likely not survive this pandemic until the point where we finally have an effective antiviral treatment or a vaccine ready for mass distribution. That doomed cohort will include some of the people who watched the President deliver those remarks or at least friends or family members of theirs. Few will emerge unscathed in some way or another.

It’s a moment like that when even the President’s most ardent, “in your face,” own the libs base of supporters would be looking for a bit of common cause. The moment called for a leader who was capable of delivering harsh truths while simultaneously expressing compassion and hope. And that’s what Donald Trump had to project, so he did. This isn’t some sort of reborn Trump 2.0. He’s been doing this all along. He’s just good enough at it that many in the press didn’t get it.

But don’t worry, media wonks. He’ll be back on Twitter delivering some scathing shots in no time. (Most likely at you.)

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