The night was still young on Tuesday when it became clear that the New York primary election was headed for a major anticlimax, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each picking up massive and unsurprising victories. But with media types crawling all over each other in the most notoriously over-served news market in the United States, a boring, business-as-usual, dog-bites-man-and-then-votes-for-a-racist narrative wasn't going to cut it. There had to be some extra spice to it, some turn in the story to ensure there was really a Point To It All.
So what was the big takeaway? Eventually, a consensus emerged: "Hey, Donald Trump won New York and yet he wasn't a complete bell-end about it! He is becoming 'more presidential.'"
Ha, all right. Consider Amber Phillips of The Washington Post:
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.
Yeah, that was it. Trump wasn't using the right parts of speech. Presidents don't say adjectives, they say verbs. That's just science. (Also, I'm pretty sure that he "put both hands" on a lectern.) It's a good thing Trump didn't come out swinging with a bunch of prepositions, or Chief Justice Roberts might have sworn him in right then and there.
There were other ostensible clues that we were dealing with a New Trump. Evidently, he's "presidential" now because he didn't allow his "voice" to raise "above his usual hoarse yell." Also, he referred to Senator Ted Cruz as "Senator Ted Cruz," and not as "lyin' Ted" or "a pussy" or "Ted Cruz who might not be eligible to be president, check his birth certificate, we may have to sue." And hey, he only basked in the approval of one white supremacist on Twitter that night. There truly never was a more apt model of restraint.
This mashup by Media Matters really gives you an idea of how enamored the media is of this whole conceit. Trump, you see, was "less combative" on Tuesday. He was "fundamentally different." There wasn't "as much of the name-calling." Most of all he was "disciplined" -- you know, on this one particular occasion. No need to wait for a second instance of Trump acting this way; let's just go ahead and attribute it to a fundamental change in his character!
My favorite: Trump "really came out and tried his hardest to talk about the issues." Oh, well, the issues. He talked about the issues, guys! The... bare minimum of what we expect presidential candidates to do! Clearly he's playing in a higher league now.
Others in MediaLand pointed out that the Trump campaign itself is in a period of transition, of which "presidentialness" is almost certainly a follow-on effect.
Is it premature to credit GOP operative Paul Manafort, who recently took the reins of the Trump campaign from Corey Lewandowski, for a wholesale transformation of "Donald Trump, eldritch clementine" into "Donald Trump, guy who is presidential?" Probably just a teensy bit, yes. If Georgia's GOP conventions are any guide, it's premature to credit Manafort for even doing the job he was hired to do -- namely, "keep Ted Cruz from poaching delegates" -- with any degree of competence. But such is the Great Man Theory of Political Consultants, in which a candidate's "game" is "changed" by virtue of finding someone, at last, who understands what a "Republican presidential primary" is.
Over at Slate, Isaac Chotiner notes how "this election has given us a good measure of just how far we've defined down [the term] presidential":
Trump may indeed have been restrained on Tuesday night in celebrating his predictable but impressive win in the New York Republican primary, but he was certainly not presidential. He did his usual shtick (albeit at shorter length), mentioned the great businessmen in the room with him, told a story about a developer friend (undermining him at the same time), and inflated the night’s actual primary results. His speech focused on, yes, our lost greatness. “We are going to be, legitimately, so great again, and I just can’t wait,” he said. Trump was Trump, give or take.
But it was clear Tuesday night that, with Bernie all but cooked and Hillary in need of a new foil, the narrative now demanded that Trump be a candidate transformed. There was nothing Trump could’ve done to change the story. He could’ve swallowed his tie on stage, and Chris Matthews would still have acted as if he’d seen the ghost of John Lindsay sitting in his green room.
A fun thing to ponder is: How long can Trump keep this going? His main response thus far to the prospect of a contested convention has been to hint about a violent uprising, and he's essentially signaled that in a one-on-one race against Hillary Clinton, his electoral strategy would consist of coughing the word "loser" into his fist a lot. So how long can he maintain this patina of maturity, of civility, of statesmanship?
Oh, whoops! Well, that was fun.
But for the sake of argument, let's say that OK, yes, Trump was comparatively subdued and brief in his post-primary remarks on Tuesday. What could this mean? Well, typically, the simplest explanation is the best one: Trump was relatively chill after the New York primary because he won it by a wide margin. It wasn't, in the end, difficult or challenging. He faced no real distress. And so there was nothing to rage against.
What Trump is selling to the American public, at its core, is the idea that hardship does not attach itself to him. He's uniquely immune to it, somehow. Setbacks are something that happens to other people. So when he finds himself facing pressure, it's always someone else's chicanery at work. That's when it's time for another lawsuit, or an elaborate revenge fantasy, or a litany of boorish remarks. But if he's winning the New York primary in a walk, what's to get upset about? That's just the world humming along the way it's supposed to. Nothing to get exercised over.
The whole reason Trump is running for president is that he thinks it's an easy job. I don't know this because of rigorous analysis of subtle clues; I know it because Trump himself keeps saying it, explicitly, over and over again. He doesn't imagine that it will be at all challenging to actually run the country. That's a note he's struck throughout this entire primary season, regardless of whether he's behaving in a "presidential" manner at any given moment.
Here's the key lesson: Trump is always going to be at his most "presidential" when he's not facing adversity. Fortunately for everyone, being president always involves everything working out exactly the way you want it to.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.