Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee in a closed-door briefing here Thursday afternoon that his candidate has been playing a “part” on the campaign trail, but is starting to pivot toward presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.”
“He gets it,” Manafort told RNC members. “The part that he’s been playing is now evolving into the part that you’ve been expecting. The negatives will come down, the image is going to change, but ‘Crooked Hillary’ is still going to be ‘Crooked Hillary.’”
The RNC members laughed at Manafort’s use of Trump’s derogatory nickname for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “She is going to hate him,” Manafort said. “And he enjoys digging it in that way.”
Manafort argued that Clinton’s negative favorability ratings are caused by “character” issues, whereas Trump’s are fueled by “personality” concerns.
“Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,” Manafort said. “You can’t change somebody’s character, but you can change the way a person presents himself.”
Manafort, along with the Trump campaign’s political director Rick Wiley and top surrogate Ben Carson, briefed state Republican Party chairmen and other RNC members at their spring meeting in South Florida. The Washington Post obtained an audio recording of the meeting.
Manafort said Trump’s goal is to “make sure we don’t have a fractured convention.” He said that Trump wants a convention that will project “our message, our leaders and our vision for America, not people fighting over whose delegate is who and the rules of the convention.”
Wiley focused on the electoral map, arguing that Trump has the unique ability to put states into play that long have voted for Democrats. He said part of Trump’s success in the primaries has been his appeal to Reagan Democrats and predicted that would open up opportunities in the fall that haven’t existed in the past.
He mentioned specifically states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois as places where Trump could compete and in some cases win. At a minimum, he said, Trump could force the Democrats to spend money defending territory they have taken for granted in recent elections.
“You’re going to see this map expand,” he said. “I think by the time this is over, you’re going to see a path to 270 [electoral votes] that looks more like George H.W. Bush’s map than George W. Bush’s map.”
Wiley, a former political director at the RNC, praised the work of the committee under Chairman Reince Priebus and said the party’s nominee and its candidates for Senate and House will benefit from a vastly improved voter identification and get-out-the-vote operation. He said the RNC team has “taken the Obama ’08 model and turned it into a Republican model.”
Manafort sounded a similar note to the RNC, seeking to soothe tensions after Trump has spent several weeks bashing what he has called a “rigged” system of selecting delegates to the convention.
Manafort said Trump is “totally committed” to “carrying the brand of the Republican Party” in the fall. He reassured RNC members that Trump would view them as “partners” in the general election.
“You bring the local knowledge and we bring our piece of the pie and we will work together to [develop] our campaign plan that will look to using the unique magic of Trump,” Manafort said.
Manafort urged the attendees, many of them unbound delegates for the convention, to move behind Trump this summer even if the billionaire does not reach the threshold for the nomination by the end of voting in early June. Part of his case was financial, arguing that the avoidance of a contested convention would enable Trump to do more to help the party raise funds for down-ballot races.
“The other concern I know that some of you had was, ‘Will he help the party raise money?’” Manafort said. “The answer is, he’s expecting to.”