New York, United States | AFP |
On message, disciplined and rising in the polls, Donald Trump has been playing it straight in the home stretch of the US election — ever since the FBI clobbered Hillary Clinton’s campaign by resurrecting her email scandal.
The FBI announcement threw the Republican’s campaign a lifeline as it reeled from a 2005 video on which Trump made vulgar remarks about groping women, and as a dozen women accused him of sexual impropriety.
For a week, renewed FBI scrutiny of the Democrat’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state has fired up the billionaire’s raucous fan base and fueled perceptions that Clinton is untrustworthy.
And so far Trump has grabbed that lifeline with both hands — ditching provocative phone-ins to talk shows, reigning in his renegade tweets and sticking to the teleprompter at his rallies.
His pitch has boiled down to a few salient points: that Clinton is corrupt, cannot be trusted and cannot become president; that America needs change and that change can only come from a bullish political outsider.
It is the discipline his advisors have been desperate to cultivate for months but with only haphazard success, a fact that Trump acknowledged in remarks that sounded like he was channelling his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.
“Nice and cool. Right? Stay on point, Donald, stay on point. No sidetracks, Donald — nice and easy,” he told a triumphal, upbeat rally in Pensacola, Florida on Wednesday that ended with a lavish display of fireworks.
He then walloped Clinton hard. If there’s anything that can fire up Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who may find the billionaire distasteful, it’s the notion that his Democrat opponent is even worse.
“We’re only left with one person, crooked Hillary Clinton. We’re going to win,” Trump told the Pensacola crowd. “Look, the bottom line is, nobody wants four more years of Obama.”
Finally gotten the message?
But whether the 70-year-old billionaire can stay on the straight and narrow for another five days remains to be seen.
Trump has come to heel in the past, speaking from teleprompters and reigning in Twitter meltdowns only to fall off the wagon after his polls rise.
The catalog of meltdowns would have buried a less brazen showman. Besides allegations against him of sexual assault, not paying taxes, and reputed ties to the Kremlin, self-inflicted wounds have frequently paralyzed his momentum.
There was the ugly row he pursued with the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, a late-night Twitter rant against a “disgusting” Venezuelan former Miss Universe and his confrontation with a federal judge of Mexican descent.
The US press has been cluttered with stories about Trump’s closest advisors or adult children pleading with him to adopt a more presidential tone.
In an article written before the FBI director’s announcement about Clinton’s emails, New York magazine likened Conway’s talk about managing her boss to a mother of four “who has had ample experience with unruly toddlers.”
“I would say, ‘Here are a couple of cool things we should tweet today.’ It’s like saying to someone, ‘How about having two brownies and not six?'” the magazine quoted her as saying.
But after a marathon campaign marked by insults levelled against almost every demographic in America than perhaps the white male, is it too little, too late?
Not in an election that hinges on turnout, says Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University.
“People may have made up their minds about him but what’s not too late is anything that increases the probability of supporters voting,” Shapiro told AFP.
“The more he deals with things that are more general and specific in the way of criticism of Hillary Clinton or the Obama administration, the better off he is,” Shapiro said.
“He may have finally gotten the message from his family members and the people running his campaign.”