Donald Trump's presidential campaign is in the middle of a much-discussed reworking. There's a lot of reworking to do. But Trump, who now has the advice of several political professionals recently brought into the campaign, faces a risk of doing too much. He has to walk a fine line to fix his problems without changing the essential character of a campaign style that made him the front-runner in the Republican race.
A lot of the Trump comments that set off firestorms in the last nine months weren't really big, lasting problems for the campaign. A few examples: Trump's diss of John McCain, his feud with Megyn Kelly, his allegations concerning Mexican immigrant crime, his mocking a New York Times reporter's disability, his claim that Muslims in the New York area celebrated Sept. 11, his boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would remain loyal, his charge that George W. Bush lied about the Iraq war -- it's a very long list. One could argue that they had a cumulative negative effect on Trump's image, but one could also argue that they were a net plus in terms of cementing loyalty among his supporters.
The fact is, Trump's supporters -- and he has more than any other Republican this cycle -- are attracted to him because of his shoot-from-the-hip style. Go to his rallies around the country, and they'll say they support Trump because he tells it like it is -- that he says things they and others would like to say but can't. That's a hugely valuable asset for Trump. If those supporters think Trump is trimming his sails to win approval from the Republican establishment, that would not help.
At the same time, some Trump errors have done grave damage to his campaign. Each resulted from Trump's own judgment, and preventing future repeats will require that Trump not only listen to (good) advice but that he restrain his own impulses going forward. Three of the mistakes that badly hurt Trump in the last few months:
1) Early hubris. In late February, after victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and predictions of a big night on Super Tuesday, Trump thought he had won the race. That led him to conclude he did not need to do the intensive, time-consuming, ground-level delegate-courting work that other campaigns had to do. The mistake had huge consequences down the road.
2) Duke/KKK. In a Feb. 28 television appearance, Trump refused to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. That single moment terrified many Republicans. They have had the race card played against them many, many times by Democrats -- and now they're looking at a nominee who won't condemn Duke and the KKK? Sensing disaster ahead, some came together in what would become the #NeverTrump movement. They oppose Trump for many reasons, but they were galvanized by the Duke/KKK statement. And it didn't matter that Trump had disavowed earlier and would do so again; in a general election, the Sunday show moment will live on in web videos and attack ads.
3) Going off the rails in Wisconsin. The GOP primary in Wisconsin was a potential turning point in the race. If Trump won, he would have done perhaps fatal damage to the #NeverTrump effort, which could have splintered and lost momentum. But with two weeks before the vote, Trump made two enormous mistakes: 1) attacking Heidi Cruz in a couple of late-night tweets, and 2) revealing that he knew little or nothing about Republican thinking on abortion. Those mistakes, along with Trump's attack on popular-with-Republicans Gov. Scott Walker, sank Trump in Wisconsin. And they weren't just controversial; they showed a significant lapse in judgment on Trump's part.
Trump can blame aides for error No. 1, but the fact is, it was his decision. And errors Nos. 2 and 3 came out of his own mouth. So how to prevent such mistakes while keeping Trump's essential public character?
Error No. 1, Trump is working on, with the hiring of Paul Manafort, Rick Wiley and others. It remains to be seen whether that is a success.
Fixing error No. 3 would -- or should -- be easy. Don't attack your opponent's wife, stop tweeting late at night, and learn about basic Republican doctrine. Look for Trump to actually accomplish those minimal goals.
Manafort tried to explain the change in a talk with Republican National Committee members meeting Thursday in Hollywood, Florida. "The part he's been playing is evolving," Manafort said. Though he didn't say it outright, Manafort seemed to suggest that Trump could sand down a few rough edges of his style and remain himself, while Hillary Clinton could not change the public's view that she is dishonest and lacking in character.
"Clinton's negatives are character negatives," Manafort said. "People don't trust her ... they think she's a liar."
"Trump's negatives are negatives that deal with his personality," Manafort continued. "Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives ... You can't change somebody's character, but you can change the way a person presents himself."
Manafort's message -- and he didn't elaborate -- seemed to be that Trump would pull back on some excesses, and also appear in different contexts, like next week's foreign-policy address, while not changing Trump's essential public style. The bottom line: Look for Trump to change but not change.