Donald Trump has been playing "a part" as a boisterous, angry, insult-spewing outsider but he will soften his persona for the general electorate if he wins the Republican presidential nomination, says a top adviser to Trump.
Longtime Republican strategist Paul Manafort's comments were designed to assure GOP party leaders, meeting in Hollywood, Florida, that Trump won't continue to alienate key blocs of voters. Manafort's immediate concern is anti-Trump feeling among Republican party leaders and activists whom the real-estate developer has repeatedly attacked for supposedly rigging the delegate-selection system to deny him the nomination.
RELATED: Donald Trump supporters
Manafort, a longtime GOP strategist and lobbyist who was recently hired as a senior Trump adviser, told members of the Republican National Committee Thursday night that Trump realizes he needs to change his persona. "That's what's important for you to understand: That he gets it, and that the part he's been playing is evolving," Manafort said.
However, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump, the GOP front-runner, was still playing the tough-guy part. He told a rally Thursday that the delegate-selection system is "rigged" and "crooked," according to CNN. And he declared that he was capable of acting more "presidential" but "I just don't know if I want to do it yet."
There are serious problems with Manafort's "two Trumps" explanation. He has given Trump critics another issue to bludgeon him with--that he is a phony. His critics say he isn't a genuine conservative; he can't be trusted to hold consistent positions, and he is only saying and doing what he thinks will propel his candidacy. This fits in with a critique of Trump which opposition Democrats are expected to underscore, that as a former reality television star (host of "The Apprentice") he is basing his campaign largely on a cult of personality and not firm or reliable stands on the issues.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Trump's main rival for the nomination, jumped on Manafort's comments. Cruz said on "The Mark Levin Show" Thursday night, "He's telling us he's lying to us. What his campaign manager says – you look at what his campaign manager is telling us: This is just an act. This is just a show. ... When he talks about anything, it's all an act and a show."
RELATED: Trump's wildest tweets
"Donald is a New York liberal who is pretending to be a conservative to try to fool Republican primary voters, "Cruz added.
Manafort said, "The negatives are going to come down, the image is going to change, but [Democratic front-runner Hillary] Clinton is still going to be crooked Hillary." He said Clinton's negative ratings with the public are caused by "character" issues while Trump's are caused by "personality" concerns, which are more easily fixed.
Manafort made his comments in private but an attendee taped him and shared the recording with The New York Times. The Associated Press, Washington Post and NBC News also obtained audio recordings.
NBC reported that Manafort said of Trump, "When he's sitting in a room, he's talking business, he's talking politics in a private room, it's a different persona. 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."
He also said Trump will now work with the same establishment Republican forces he has been attacking for installing a "corrupt" nominating system. "He gave us the mandate to bring together a team of professionals that could finish the job for him, but could also then begin to link in with the establishment institutions that are part of our party, what you represent, what the state parties represent," Manafort told the RNC members. "We've started all those conversations. ... He cares about the united team."
Trump surrogates told RNC members that Trump would be a strong general election candidate and be competitive in states that Republican presidential candidates have lost in recent years, such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Delaware, and in swing states such as Florida and Colorado.