Is Trump’s past catching up with him?

Updated 2:21 PM EDT, Wed May 18, 2016

Story highlights

Michael D'Antonio: Donald Trump is a singular creature, who inhabits a world of his own making

As Trump seeks our trust in pursuit of highest office in the land, the past is catching up with him, D'Antonio says

Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the new book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN —  

In basketball, a pivot requires planting one foot firmly and swinging the other to change direction. In politics, it usually means shifting from the red-meat style and substance that wins over the party faithful to a more moderate approach to capture the general election.

Mitt Romney did it in 2012 on foreign policy. Barack Obama did it in 2008 on the national security court. And Trump seems to be attempting it now.

But he’s having some trouble pulling it off.

Trump’s troubles are twofold. First, he has planted his foot so firmly on matters like banning Muslims from entering the country, that his shift – it was “just a suggestion” – is unconvincing. Last December, his own campaign issued a statement that said he “is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

This was not a suggestion. It was a declaration of Trump’s intentions. The same is true for his call for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and his plan to encircle and bomb the Islamic State into oblivion.

Michael D'Antonio
Toni Raiten-D'Antonio
Michael D'Antonio

Trump’s second problem is that his record of boorish and manipulative behavior is starting to catch up with him. With the primary season essentially ended, and the general election campaign still months away, the press and public are the ones now pivoting. We are moving away from the pyrotechnic spectacle of Trump vs ‘“Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco” et al to a more considered examination of the Trump record.

What is this more detailed examination revealing? For a start, The New York Times has published a damning account of Trump’s long record of demeaning women. The Washington Post, meanwhile, has called attention to Trump’s apparent history of posing as someone else – experts on CNN have suggested an interview with Trump “spokesman” John Miller was actually Trump himself – in order to practice the art of manipulation.

The Times article depended on numerous first-hand accounts that offer a convincing view of a man who used his power to demean and degrade (although one of the women featured has disputed the account of her role).

The Post relied on an audio recording from the time of a scandal that found Trump with a young model/actress named Marla Maples.

Of these, the audio – from an interview in 1991 – seems particularly damaging. Trump has denied the voice in the recording is him, despite having previously admitted to passing himself off as a public relations agent.

But the apparent masquerade suggests that Trump was such an avid deceiver, and so vain, that he needed to brag about his many girlfriends and his business success. “Miller” reportedly told People magazine writer Sue Carswell that Trump was “doing well financially and he’s doing well in every other way.”

At the time, the person most damaged by Trump’s interview was Maples. As Carswell reported, she burst into tears when she heard the recording. But now the tape is hurting Trump, who, in his usual fashion, has made things worse by insisting that the voice belongs to someone else. Someone else who used the name John Miller. Someone else who was determined to pump up the Trump image.

Of course, his campaign aides are falling in line to deny the obvious. In continuing these denials, they keep the controversy going.

The recording – combined with the Times’ exhaustive accounting of Trump’s allegedly piggish behavior – would have ruined most candidates, revealing as it does a powerful man behaving like a mean adolescent. You could imagine someone else offering abject apologies and, perhaps, abandoning their quest to be president. Yet Trump, who doesn’t apologize and never backs down, will do neither.

Why? Because he is a singular creature who inhabits a world of his own making.

Trump has used his connections, trickery, and mythmaking to get what he wants ever since he claimed, in the 1970s, to control a huge fortune that actually belonged to his father. When he tore down the old Bonwit Teller department store to build Trump Tower, he reportedly used a fake persona to address media questions about some important artwork that he was supposed to preserve but actually destroyed. That time, the Washington Post reports, he posed as “John Barron” to deflect criticism. The Post also says he used a code name, “the Baron,” to disguise messages he left for Maples during their affair.

In the past, Trump’s tricks and his denials were, for the most part, amusing sideshows in the carnival that is daily life in New York City. Over the years, he presented such a busy spectacle that he could escape accountability for one outrageous act by performing another.

But today, as he seeks our trust in his pursuit of the highest office in the land, the past is catching up with him. Trump is now in the position of being held to his record. And try as he may to pivot or dodge, there’s simply no escaping it.

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Michael D’Antonio is the author of the new book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.