Trump, Change Agent, Hasn’t Changed in Decades

And neither has Sanders or Cruz, while Clinton continues to evolve

Donald Trump, here with his then-wife Marla Maples in 1991, and Sanders haven’t changed their rhetoric in 25 years, Murphy writes. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
Donald Trump, here with his then-wife Marla Maples in 1991, and Sanders haven’t changed their rhetoric in 25 years, Murphy writes. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images file photo)
Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:00am

In the 1990s, Donald Trump posed as a PR agent named “John Baron ” to inform reporters that Donald Trump is amazing with the women.  

If anyone’s surprised, they haven’t been paying attention to the presidential race, in which Trump is still ill-advisedly doing most campaign jobs himself, including speech-writing, messaging, scheduling and the all-important tweeting.  The fact is that Trump, GOP change agent, hasn’t changed an iota in at least 25 years.  

If you need any more proof, look at Trump’s 1990 Playboy interview , featuring thoughts on the presidency that could have been written yesterday. “We need to be tough,” he told Playboy at the time, musing that in a Trump White House, a “toughness of attitude would prevail.”  

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Even then, Trump knew he’d be elected by “the working guy,” that one of his advisers would be Carl Ichan , and that trade was killing the future of American economy, especially trade with the Japanese.  “I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.”  

A lot has been made about the eerie similarity of Trump-then and Trump-now, but Trump isn’t the only candidate who seems to be suffering from a lack of internal evolution.  

NPR recently ran a clip of Bernie Sanders talking about the most pressing crisis facing the country — income inequality.  Sanders’ us-against-the-billionaires rhetoric isn’t at all new, but the source of the audio was news to me — the Vermont Historical Society.  

“The fundamental issue facing us in the state is that one half of 1 percent of these people — the richest one half of 1 percent — earn as much as the bottom 27 percent and the top 3 percent earn as much as the bottom 40 percent.”  Sanders could have said that any day last week, but the clip came from a debate for governor of Vermont in 1976.  

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Ted Cruz , the second-to-last man standing, had a similar time-capsule quality to his thinking.  A college classmate of his told me that the lasting impression he had of Cruz was that he seemed to feel he had nothing to learn from anybody. “Four years of an Ivy League education, Harvard Law, and years of life experience have altered nothing,” he told me before Cruz’s run for president.  

It’s like Trump, Sanders, and Cruz were frozen in time and thawed last year to run for president in 2016 as candidates of “change.”  Are they incapable of learning or laudably consistent?  Voters seem to think it’s the latter.  

Compare that to Hillary Clinton, this year’s status quo candidate, whose campaign promises more-of-the-same. Yet unlike her rivals, she has reinvented herself at every life stage — from feminist trailblazer to wife-of-Bill to top-flight-attorney, first lady, senator, you know the rest.  

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Her political orientation has changed with the times, too, and she’s gone from Goldwater Girl to centrist DLCer to progressive-ish presidential candidate.  As a  politician, she has changed her positions on marriage equality, free trade, climate change, gun control, the Iraq War. As a candidate, she changes her dialect depending on the zip code of the microphone she’s speaking into.  

Now that Trump is an official politician, he’s making similar tweaks; the beautiful wall and Muslim ban were just “suggestions” and the self-financed purity vow that won so many voters over in the primaries is out the window now. He’ll be fundraising through major donors with the Republican National Committee.  

It’s quite a choice for voters, between two men who have displayed oddly calcified personalities and a woman whose opinions seemed to change based on nearly everything but a core set of beliefs.  

The situation begs for a third-party candidate, but that would require the entire political process to change.  And if there’s one thing that never changes in politics, it’s the system itself.  

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android .