Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Hagerstown. (Molly Riley/AFP via Getty Images
Opinion writer

There is talk from the Trump camp that perhaps his performance to date was an act, that he is in the process of pivoting to an image that is more “presidential.” I haven’t seen any explanation as to what they think that means, but one would assume it means fewer insults and vulgarities and a generally more appropriate demeanor.

Trump boasts that he can easily achieve unprecedented levels of presidentialness, suggesting that at-will he could become: knowledgeable, judicious, thoughtful, solicitous, poised, mature, modest and dignified. Can being “presidential” be something that can be put on and taken off like a coat? Or does it have more to do with character and someone’s essence that cannot be artificially applied? Trump and crew seem to view it as more of the former.

Okay, but absent assertions from Trump and a tape recording of Paul Manafort, we haven’t seen much from his campaign to indicate that Trump can actually control himself or that he even wants to or thinks he needs to. But try to give the Trump team the benefit of the doubt; is there anything in the candidate’s past, prior to running for president, where he conducted himself in a way that is consistent with a “presidential” demeanor? Hmmm. Nothing comes to mind. The Donald’s previous public escapades are not reassuring. His behavior and commentary have been consistent over the years; his shouting match with Rosie O’Donnell, his incredibly insulting rants against women, his bankruptcies and cheesy deals, Playboy interviews, Howard Stern appearances, his birther crusade, three marriages and a generally raunchy style seemed to have foreshadowed what we continue to see in his presidential campaign.

There is no doubt that there is an appetite among many Republicans to see something better in Trump. This must be obvious to Manafort and crew. There is no shortage of party regulars trying to gracefully get on board with Trump. You will be surprised when you learn who helped with Trump’s foreign policy speech he will deliver later this week.

So if Trump isn’t a vulgar, ignorant bigot for about 10 minutes, will the media swoon and herald a new era of an enlightened Trump? And, will GOP regulars, including rank-and-file suburban voters and women, buy into the proposition that everything that turned them off was just an act? Will people choose to believe the latest spin and get on board or has Trump damaged himself beyond repair with large components of the Republican coalition?

The need for a new act is obvious but can Trump really pull it off? Does he truly want to present himself in a different way? There is the suggestion that Trump may lose some of his current support if he changes style. Could it be that the very characteristics that have given him his appeal so far are the same things that have made him the most unpopular presidential candidate from either party anyone can remember? Is it fair to his voters to say that they may be so offended by a modicum of restraint and dignity that they might abandon Trump? I guess we are going to find out. Trump’s negatives are too high for him to win. He must move fast to coalesce the traditional Republican vote. There isn’t much he can do to make Hillary Clinton more unpopular, so Trump must change or he has zero chance of winning. A shift won’t be easy because, based on everything voters have observed, it won’t be credible. And there are plenty of honest watchdogs out there that will remind voters of the Trump they knew. In case anyone already needs a refresher, read The Post editorial titled “Softening on Trump? Remember this.