(CNN)On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump, in his first coronavirus briefing in several months, delivered a sober assessment of the fight against Covid-19 — acknowledging that “it will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better” and even offering a sort-of endorsement for mask-wearing. At just over 30 minutes, the briefing was far shorter than the rollicking (and rambling) updates Trump was providing on the virus earlier in the year. And Trump himself was significantly more disciplined, largely sticking to prepared remarks and avoiding long asides in which he cast blame on everyone but himself for the current coronavirus state of affairs.
“Trump’s press conference today marks a change in tone and a more disciplined and realistic approach,” tweeted Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.
“It will be a good message for the public and he will benefit from it politically. Welcome news.”
If there is anything we have learned — or should have learned — about Donald Trump over these past five-ish years, it’s that that there is no “new” Trump, no version 2.0, no new leaf to turn over. There is just Trump. He has been this same person — bullying, blaming, convinced of his own brilliance, willing to bend and break facts for his own purposes — his entire adult life. He may be able to subsume those natural characteristics for a day or even a week. But they will come back out — sooner rather than later. They always, always do.
We’ve been down this road before. Like, a lot of times.
Go back to the spring of 2016 when Trump was trying to convince the Republican Party that he could rein in his more base instincts (sand Twitter fingers) and be the sort of presidential nominee they had grown to expect.
Of Trump’s victory address following his April 19 primary victory in New York, NPR wrote
“His Tuesday night victory speech at Trump Tower in New York City was brief, relatively subdued, and relatively on-message. The roughly ten-minute speech was a far, far cry from the night in March when he celebrated primary wins by hawking Trump steaks, Trump wine and threw a Trump magazine into the crowd of supporters who had gathered at his lush Mar-a-lago resort in Florida.”
Trump then went on a media blitz to sell the new him.
“The campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I,” he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview
. “I’ll be more effective and more disciplined.”
Soon after, at a town hall on the “Today Show,” Trump uttered this now-famous/infamous promise
: “At the right time, I will be so presidential, you will be so bored. You will say, ‘Can he have a little bit more energy?’ But I know when to be presidential.”
That was more than four years ago.
And yet, when Trump delivered his first address to a bicameral session of Congress in 2017, there was still talk of a new tone.
“It marked a striking change of tone from his campaign and his early days in office, from a president who has frequently feuded with critics, including members of his own party,” wrote The Atlantic of the address
. “The optimistic tone was equally a departure from Trump’s inaugural address, in which he painted a picture of a country in decline and memorably promised to end ‘American carnage.'”
That was more than three years ago.
Given that history, what’s remarkable is not that Trump occasionally veers into rhetoric and tone that vaguely resembles past presidents but rather that anyone actually thinks he will sustain it for more than a few days. As GOP strategist Tim Miller wrote
following Trump’s press conference:
“For 30 minutes on Tuesday, President Donald Trump pretended to act like something approximating a normal human in discussing the COVID-19 crisis facing our country. He read some platitudes from a script. He expressed support for basic safety precautions in the face of a contagious virus. While not eliminating them entirely he kept the wishcasting and gaslighting and hyperbolic statements about his self-proclaimed greatness to a minimum.”
And, even within Trump’s quasi-presidential performance on Tuesday night, there was evidence that the old Trump — aka the only Trump — was lurking right below the surface.
Asked about Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of recruiting, grooming and ultimately sexually abusing minors in coordination with the late Jeffrey Epstein, Trump said this
: “I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach but I wish her well whatever it is.”
The point is this: There is also one version of Donald Trump. It’s the one we all know about by now. It’s the one on Twitter. The one at his campaign rallies. The one who proclaimed himself to be “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL” way back in 2017
You can hate that Trump. Or love him. But you cannot reasonably think that there is any other iteration of Trump that is emerging. There is not. Trump is just Trump. Always has been. Always will be.