It was pretty much a given that Donald Trump's victory speech in his hometown last night was going to be different.
After he won New York's GOP primary by a massive and larger-than-expected margin, Trump was uncharacteristically subdued, setting aside the braggadocio (his word) we're used to seeing from the real estate billionaire. And this somewhat-new, more-polished Trump - if we are indeed witnessing that - should worry Republicans who hope Trump will eventually gaffe himself out of the race.
Here's a look at the new Trump: After the race was called, Trump high-fived a supporter, thanked his family, took a shot at the press and then put both hands on the podium and proceeded to give a much more traditional politician-y speech.
Jobs in America. A strong military. Get rid of Obamacare. Make America great again. He used a lot of verbs and all but dropped his usual flourish of adjectives.
My colleague Chris Cillizza tweeted, "Correct. Totally different tone. Celebratory but not outlandish or over the top. https://t.co/HD42Msinki" The only time his voice rose above his usual hoarse yell was to say he is "no fan of Bernie" but that he gets why Sanders supporters feel like the election is being stolen from them. He's in the same boat, after all, as he wins states but often falls short of what he need in the all-important delegate race. So he commiserated. (A toned-down Trump is not above accusing the Republican system of being "rigged" against him, which is a message he won't soon desert, for good reason.)
But that was pretty much it for drama. In all, the speech lasted roughly seven minutes; Trump has done many TV interviews longer than that. I mean, he even referred to his opponents by name -- official title and all, no "Lyin' Ted" -- while he bragged about beating them.
Cillizza tweeted, "Gone is "Lyin' Ted." In its place is "Senator Cruz." Not an accident."
As Cillizza hints at, there's probably a pretty good political explanation for Trump's sudden change of tone.
We've been wondering since he started leading in the polls when Trump would act more like a politician. Sure, his do-anything, say-anything, rules-be-damned style has gotten him this far.
But it's also earned Trump a lot of haters among the general electorate and -- by extension -- the GOP establishment that could thwart him. Seven in 10 women now view Trump negatively, according to a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. So do 3 in 4 millennials and 4 in 5 Hispanics.
If Trump's numbers stay that way, it's very difficult to see how he wins in November, even against a beatable candidate like Hillary Clinton. That's why the GOP is preparing to go to such lengths at its convention to stop him, and risking alienating his supporters in the process.
Maybe it's finally starting to dawn on Trump that he can't bulldoze his way to the White House. He's got new advisers now, most notably political veteran Paul Manafort, who is leading Team Trump as it pivots to a protracted and probably messy delegate fight at the July convention.
Judging from the subdued Trump who appeared on stage Tuesday, it's a safe bet Manafort is also directing the candidate to pivot himself to come across as a more agreeable. That plan appears to start with avoiding name-calling of his opponents and giving shorter, more direct speeches. (Perhaps less time in front of the mic to make a mistake?)
We're spending so much time analyzing Trump's tone because, as we've established, it's notably different. And because it could make a difference in the race.
Cillizza points out that the Trump who appeared on stage Tuesday should scare Republicans trying to stop him from getting their nomination. Trump already has the grassroots support; how much more can he build on that if he learns to keep his mouth shut occasionally?
"If he makes the transition to being a really professional presidential candidate, he will be really formidable," predicted former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., recently. "And if he does not, he will not be the nominee."
With nothing less than the nomination and perhaps presidency on the line, the next question is if Trump can actually sustain a retooled approach. It's possible. We've seen Trump show brief flashes of discipline before, after all.
Way back in September, before the second Republican primary debate, Trump admitted he could "tone it down a little bit."
But he almost immediately broke that resolution. A few minutes in, he said this: Matt Viser tweeted, "I never attacked him on his looks," Trump says of Rand Paul. "And believe me, there is plenty of material right there."
Trump's campaign team has repeatedly said the candidate does what he wants.
That's what makes Trump's Tuesday's victory speech all the more remarkable. It's hard to imagine the same guy who said that about Rand Paul in September just forgetting to call his opponents name as the race drags on into April.
Unless, of course, he sees some clear political benefit in changing his tone at this moment in the race.
We certainly do.
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