Who is the real Trump?

Last week, advisers to Donald Trump went behind closed doors to assure Republican leaders that their man was simply “projecting an image” to voters that would soon change from belligerent to benevolent as the race shifts to winning over general-election voters.

Surprisingly, some were surprised.

Not me. I wrote back in January that Trump would eventually confess that his entire campaign has been the world’s most elaborate pilot for a reality show, a bid for attention rather than a bid for the Oval Office. And while Trump’s team didn’t own up to that, they admitted there was definitely some Hollywood in Trump’s shtick.

“When he’s out on the stage, when he’s talking about the kinds of things he’s talking about on the stump, he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” said Paul Manafort, Trump’s convention manager, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a recording of the meeting.

Manafort said once the general election starts, “You’ll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You’ll see a real different guy.” He added: “The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting, but he wasn’t ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”

Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse, that Trump’s belligerent fire-starter persona is invented or that of all the personas he could dream up, this is the one he chose.

Then again, I said back in January that Trump has been signaling to voters that he’d be a different person in office than he is on the trail; Trump has hinted he could easily become a politically correct, flexible dealmaker as president.

As late as last week, Trump said the same thing: “I just don’t know if I want to do it [change] yet,” he said in Pennsylvania. “At some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored.” If he became presidential now, Trump said, the size of his crowds might shrink.

And isn’t that really the worst thing in our Reality Show Age? You can be a terrible person, an ignorant person, a fact-free, gut-governing, know-nothing person, but that’s better than being boring. News will cover conflict, but for the love of God, please don’t make reporters talk about issues!

For example, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — in many ways, the anti-Trump — has said for months on the campaign trail that the country is run by monied special interests and more resembles an oligarchy than a democracy. And it’s not just Sanders saying that, or former President Jimmy Carter, who used the o-word on a radio program in 2015 to lament the death of American democracy. A September 2014 study that examined more than 1,800 policy initiatives over 30 years found that the political preferences of wealthy elites were enacted far more often than those at the bottom of the income ladder.

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” wrote researchers Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. “But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Whoever the real Trump actually is, and notwithstanding his pretensions to populism, there’s no doubt he’s one of those affluent Americans. Which means instead of “Make America Great Again,” shouldn’t Trump’s campaign slogan really be, “Eliminate the Middleman”?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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