Signs of change from Trump
© Getty

Signs of change are emerging in Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE’s campaign as he seeks to close the gap with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: 'Too many politicians are being subject to criminal prosecution' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE in the polls. 

The Republican nominee has been giving more scripted speeches and spending less time at rallies, where his off-the-cuff style often resulted in controversy. 

ADVERTISEMENT

He has been tweeting less, doing fewer interviews and spending more time on retail campaigning, this week visiting local police departments and meeting with flood victims in Louisiana.

And after getting swamped by tens of millions of dollars in ad spending from Clinton and her allies, the Trump campaign purchased its first television ad buys this week, placing $4 million in spots that began airing in key battleground states on Friday.

Add it all up, and for the first time, the Trump campaign is taking on the appearance of something it has never had before: an air of normalcy.

“It's been a while since the Trump campaign handed Republicans anything to be encouraged about, but this renewed effort to run an orthodox campaign is certainly an improvement over what we've seen over the past couple of months,” said one GOP operative working on a Senate race in a battleground state.

“If he can stay disciplined he might actually close the gap.”

Trump has had quiet stretches before, only to upend the race again with a new incendiary comment or tweet. That pattern has made talk of a Trump “pivot” into something of a punch line, with political operatives increasingly convinced that the candidate cannot and will not change. 

Trump himself has encouraged the idea that his campaign will stay the course. 

“Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, you’ve got to pivot,’” Trump said during an interview in La Crosse, Wis. "I don’t want to pivot. I don’t want to change. 

"You have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people. No, I am who I am.” 

Yet with 81 days to go until the election, the businessman appears to be making small but noticeable shifts in his approach.

Trump started the week with a prepared speech laying out his national security vision and plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He followed that with another prepared speech in which he directly appealed to black voters in Milwaukee, Wis., a city in the midst of a racially charged controversy over a police shooting.

The capstone came on Thursday night in Charlotte, where Trump expressed regret for any “personal pain” he might have caused with his campaign rhetoric.

“We’re beginning to see the boardroom Donald Trump,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaEx-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 MORE (R-Penn.), who sat on the panel Trump conducted in New York City on national security this week. “I’ve seen it since the primary — the thoughtful, deliberative, focused executive. Call it a pivot, call it whatever you want, but I call it good that America gets to see it.”

Even some of Trump’s fiercest critics say the campaign appears to be getting on a better path.

“All of these things are encouraging,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, who has been fiercely critical of Trump. “There are still a lot of negatives out there, but these last three speeches have been the best he’s done since becoming the presumptive nominee.”

Trump’s uncharacteristic expression of regret in the Charlotte speech was met with applause from pundits and received glowing coverage from the press, with some hailing it as his best speech yet.

His campaign is basking in the positive coverage, sending out press releases highlighting stories from media outlets that they’ve quarreled with in the past.

The shift in tone from the speech was all the more surprising because it came after Trump brought on former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon to act as his campaign’s CEO.

Under Bannon’s watch, Breitbart became known for its confrontational coverage, leaving some to speculate Trump was preparing to embrace scorched earth tactics.

Instead, Bannon’s first few days on the team are being hailed as a triumph, although a lot of the early credit is being directed towards new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Conway is as fierce a defender of Trump as former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was, but she has a softer touch that could help Trump make up his deficit in support among women.

Together, Bannon and Conway will replace former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who resigned on Friday.

Still, Trump will need weeks of repeat performances to convince skeptics that he can lead the Republican Party to victory in November

“It won't hold,” said Andrew Weinstein, a former spokesperson for Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole who is leading the effort to get the RNC to cut ties with Trump.

“Trump is a scorpion, and his nature is to strike out,” Weinstein said. “He may have tucked his stinger away for a few days, but he cannot stop himself from poisoning his campaign again.”

Other critics noted that Trump has defied expectations repeatedly during his presidential run.

"Anyone who thinks he can predict what Trump is planning to do, or what he will actually do, or how long it will last, is crazy,” said Oren Cass, who served as domestic policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.