Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy last year, I have repeatedly stated that Trump is a hammer in search of a nail. He knows only one tactic: brute force. But when he applies that brute force in the right place, he can do significant damage.
On Tuesday, Trump found the Hillary nail, and he pounded it repeatedly.
Every day is an exercise in Good Trump/Bad Trump. Good Trump is the attack dog who won’t let go of a bone once he’s got it in his teeth. Bad Trump is the dog who bites small children, “Mexican” judges, the disabled.
Today, we got Good Trump.
Trump, with his unerring instinct for the identifying the growling beast within us all, understands that Americans don’t trust Hillary for one crucial reason: they think, correctly, that she’s out for herself. And he hit this point over and over in his well-crafted (!) speech. Trump first had to position himself as an altruistic candidate driven by concern for country, which he did in lackluster fashion. But when he turned his guns on Hillary, he hit paydirt. He called Hillary a “world class liar,” concluding, “Brian Williams’ career was destroyed” for lesser lies than Hillary has told.
He slammed Hillary for her corruption. “Hillary Clinton has perfected the politics of personal profit and theft,” he said. “She ran the State Department like her own personal hedge fund – doing favors for oppressive regimes, and many others, in exchange for cash.” He added, “She gets rich making you poor.”
Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.
He rightly attacked Hillary’s foreign policy:
The Hillary Clinton foreign policy has cost America thousands of lives and trillions of dollars – and unleashed ISIS across the world. No Secretary of State has been more wrong, more often, and in more places than Hillary Clinton. Her decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched. Among the victims is our late Ambassador, Chris Stevens….She started the war that put him in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die. To cover her tracks, Hillary lied about a video being the cause of his death.
Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is that she refuses to acknowledge the threat posed by Radical Islam…. I only want to admit people who share our values and love our people. Hillary Clinton wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death.
And here’s Trump on Hillary’s private email server:
Then there are the 33,000 emails she deleted. While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be President of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the Presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.
The best line of the speech, by a long shot, was this one: “She believes she is entitled to the office. Her campaign slogan is ‘I’m with her.’ You know what my response to that is? I’m with you: the American people. She thinks it’s all about her. I know it’s all about you – I know it’s all about making America Great Again for All Americans.”
This goes right to the heart of Hillary’s failures as a candidate.
That doesn’t mean Trump’s speech was flawless, by any means. He did his usual caudillo routine in which he represents America’s Great Savior, Hugo Chavez-style (“I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton – only by me”). He sprinkled his speech with the usual Trumpian stylistic twitches (“Jobs, jobs, jobs!”). He mirrored the Bernie Sanders routine on trade and corporatism, even though he’s a full-scale corporatist and knows full well that trade restrictions destroy economies. Lines like this one – “It’s rigged by big businesses who want to leave our country, fire our workers, and sell their products back into the U.S. with absolutely no consequences for them” – insult Americans’ intelligence. His claim that there is “a wave of globalization that wipes out our middle class and our jobs” is utterly asinine. His pledges to end special interest politics ring hollow, given his cozy relationship with politicians for decades, and the fact that he brags about paying them off.
But overall, this was one of Trump’s two best speeches. His other great speech came last week on the heels of the Orlando jihadist attack, regarding the threat of radical Islam.
Two weeks, two great speeches. Teleprompter Trump is better than Unscripted Donald.
And so today, Republicans pray that Teleprompter Trump sticks around, and that Unscripted Donald doesn’t say anything stupid for a few hours, to let this speech work its way into Americans’ consciousness. They hope beyond hope that Trump sticks to the talking points.
None of this will change who Trump is; it doesn’t make Trump conservative, it doesn’t make him palatable, it doesn’t mean his campaign isn’t a disorganized scam, it doesn't change the fact that Trump once funded Hillary and called her a terrific Secretary of State before deciding to run against her. But the speech does change the narrative. If Trump sticks to attacking Hillary, pro-Trump Republicans will be able to justify their argument that Trump was the only Republican in the field willing to pummel Hillary. And if Trump begins to climb in the polls, pro-Trump Republicans will be able exert renewed pressure on #NeverTrump conservatives. Trump will lock up the convention delegates without hassle.
Now we find out: is this the beginning of the fabled Trump Pivot, or was it just another mirage in a desert of political hot air?