Opening day.

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The Trump Campaign Tries to Get Its Act Together

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Finally, the Donald Trump campaign has something that resembles a headquarters: a pop-up office at the Westin Hotel in Cleveland. Walk through the lobby and they are all there, the people you were told existed -- or would soon -- but who remained virtual beings during the primaries. They would be doing ordinary things that in Trumpland are extraordinary -- writing speeches, position papers (clarifying positions), and rewrites of his tax plan that won't put the country $3 trillion in debt.

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Now if you are willing to pay $35 for a burger at the bar, you can talk to these people, who are no longer your imaginary sources who weren’t at his rallies and didn't have phone numbers or e-mail addresses that didn’t go to spam. This is heartening to many in the press whose main interaction with the Trump people had been getting permission to be crammed in a holding pen at his rallies.

But this is not to say everything has changed. On Sunday, we were told on deepest background that Trump would be appearing onstage at the Republican National Convention on Monday night -- the first day of the gathering and days before any other candidate appeared in the past. Don’t breathe a word.

The demand for secrecy was made at the same time that Trump was on Fox News saying to the world that he would be appearing on stage on Monday. Also whispered was that he would introduce his wife, Melania, and that, breaking with her husband's way of doing things, she would be using a teleprompter. What a shock.

Trump stabilizing is a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t phenomenon. Chief among those designed to balance Trump -- the thrice-married, off-the-cuff, authoritarian iconoclastic Republican standard-bearer -- is his running mate, Indiana Governor. Mike Pence, a restrained, once-wedded, white-haired, ramrod-straight Rust Belt bureaucrat. Put the two together, you would get one normal person.

Judging from their public appearances so far, it seems Pence will be a hood ornament. He was barely allowed to get in a word edgewise either at his unveiling, where Trump spoke 28 minutes without giving him a head-nod, or in their first joint interview, for "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, when the approximate word count was 2,000 words for Trump and 900 for Pence. It’s just as well since they agree on very little. One takeaway from the interview was Trump’s declaration that Pence, who eschews negative campaigning, will not be obligated to refer to the Democratic nominee as "Crooked Hillary." Translation: Trump will be his own attack dog.

Yet even as his campaign takes on more of the trappings of normalcy, it's still clear that there’s no tamping down the world’s most famous id. Trump’s main minder is his campaign chief, Paul Manafort, who came to a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg on Monday morning. Sometimes he sounded like a grizzled veteran of campaigns past. At others, he sounded like his boss. Consider the lack of representatives of the Bush dynasty at the convention. Won't be a problem. And he didn't mean just Low Energy Jeb, and Iraq War George W., but the venerable George H.W. Manafort almost thanked them for boycotting the event: “If you want to be purely political about it, and you want to run a change campaign against the establishment, who would you pick in the Republican Party not to be for you? You know what I mean? So O.K., do I want the Bush support? Yes. Can I live without it? Yes."

And what about Ohio Governor John Kasich, a kind of host of the convention, who also plans to be anywhere but at the Quicken Loans Arena? He “is being petulant," Manafort said. "He's embarrassing his party. All just because he finished third.” Don’t look for any last-minute can’t-we-all-get-along moment there. 

On the delicate subject of killings across the country -- by police and of police -- Manafort stopped just short of saying the violence helped Trump. Trump himself has come even closer to saying as much. The law-and-order candidate reverted to form in an interview on Fox & Friends on Monday, saying there was something fishy about President Barack Obama's reaction to the spate of killings: "Sometimes the words are O.K., but you just look at the body language. There's something going on."

Conventions are a combination of trade show (for pols and journalists), revival meeting, food festival and county fair. But this time, there’s the added element of menace in the air. While the police union asked to have the law permitting people to openly carry firearms suspended for a week, the governor said he had no authority to do that. For those not from an NRA state, a rifle slung over the shoulder like a backpack is startling, all the more so in Cleveland, which has drawn white supremacists, Black Panthers, advocates for one man-one-woman marriage, the "Vote for Jesus sandwich board" and a man with a sign that says "Kick my Dog for Trump," only he has another man on all fours on a leash, his point unknown. Loneliest of all is a person dressed as a polar bear and bearing the sign “What Will You Do to Save Me?  He's probably at the wrong convention.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net