Donald Trump, North Carolina, And How You Can Tell He's Dead Serious About The Presidency

Considering the disgusting things Donald Trump has said about everyone from women to Mexicans to Muslims, he's essentially won the bigot Olympics. So it was a shock for me to hear that he was joining the ranks of Clay Aiken and Pearl Jam (this is a phrase I never thought I'd write) to speak out against trans discrimination. On Thursday, Trump opposed North Carolina's "bathroom bill," which bans trans people from using bathrooms that match their gender identities.

"North Carolina did something that was very strong, and they're paying a big price, and there's a lot of problems," Trump said on NBC's Today show. But after saying the bill was "strong," he went to criticize its discriminatory nature. Referring to how bathrooms did not discriminate prior to the bill, he said:

"There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble. And the problem with North Carolina has been the strife and the economic punishment that they're taking."

He then said he opposed building separate bathrooms just for trans people, because “that would be discriminatory, in a certain way,” and “it would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country.”

I hadn't thought the word "discriminatory" was one Trump comprehended, so his statements were jaw-dropping to me. What's more, when asked if Caitlyn Jenner would be free to use any bathroom she wished to in Trump Tower, he said, "That is correct."

Have we fallen into an alternate universe in which Trump is a just and righteous man, or is he actually turning a new leaf on trans rights?

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Trump and trans rights have had a poor history. His "Miss Universe Canada" beauty pageant once disqualified contestant Jenna Talackova after finding out she was transgender. Though that decision ended up being reversed, that didn't stop Trump from making a simultaneously bizarre and offensive comment in an ABC 20/20 interview:

I looked at her name, and somebody brought this up to me: "Jennatal." Those are the first letters of her name. And it’s "genital." And I’m saying to myself, "Hmm, that’s strange, could there be an ulterior motive?"

And let's not forget that just last summer, Trump misgendered Caitlyn Jenner in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter saying, "I knew him a little bit when Bruce was a great athlete. He was one of the best-looking people you’ll ever see."

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

His track record shows that not only has he said transphobic comments before, but he's also been ill-informed about trans people in general. That's why his new stance on North Carolina's bathroom bill is so startling; not only does Trump appear to be advocating against it, but he's also backing his argument up with logic. That's new territory for him.

When Trump said that "there have been very few complaints" prior to the bill, he was absolutely right. Violence due to trans people using bathrooms that correlate with their gender identities is statistically nonexistent. Though champions of such discriminatory bills frame them as "protection" against "sexual predators," there are zero reported cases of trans people attacking others in bathrooms.

I see Trump's new comments as one of the recent examples of how the Republican frontrunner appears to be moving away from his past extremist stances to something more moderate. Over the weekend, Trump's campaign brought in Paul Manafort, Rick Wiley, and other seasoned strategists from the GOP establishment. It is too early to know whether all of these changes will help make Trump more palatable to voters, but they're a big step away from his past behavior.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Some may say his measured words for trans rights in North Carolina are an example of being insincere and pandering for votes, especially since Trump has a history of constantly changing stances. Remember that one time he took five different positions on abortion within three days? It's true that it's unlikely Trump is going to start wearing rainbow flags. Also, his words on the bathroom bill were cautious, focusing on its economic consequences rather than its ethics, and calling the bill "strong" instead of flat-out wrong.

But that's still a breakthrough from Trump 1.0, who formed conspiracy theories about trans people's genitals. And if Trump is only speaking out against trans discrimination to pander, he is seriously risking his base to do so. I believe it's meaningful to say on the record that banning trans individuals from bathrooms "would be discriminatory, in a certain way," and to invite Caitlyn Jenner to use whichever Trump Tower bathroom she wishes. It's a small step for man, but a YUGE step for Trump.