June 25, 2016

Donald Trump's speech Wednesday got some good reviews. Slate's Michelle Goldberg wrote,

Donald Trump’s Wednesday morning speech about Hillary Clinton’s record is probably the most unnervingly effective one he has ever given. In a momentary display of discipline, he read from a teleprompter with virtually no ad-libbing, avoiding digs at Bill Clinton’s infidelity or conspiracy theories about Vince Foster’s suicide.... Trump spoke for 40 minutes without saying anything overtly sexist. Instead, he aimed straight at Clinton’s most-serious weaknesses, describing her as a venal tool of the establishment. “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs and effectively let China completely rebuild itself,” he said. “In return, Hillary Clinton got rich!” He added, “She gets rich making you poor,” and called her possibly “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”

The point is not that this is true; as political analyst David Gergen said on CNN, the speech was slanderous. But the lies in the speech ... were not obviously self-refuting.

NPr's Mara Liasson had this to say:

Donald Trump did what Republicans have begged their presidential candidate to do for months -- lay out the case, from A to Z, against Hillary Clinton.

... the political significance of the speech is undeniable. After wasting the first six weeks of his time as the presumptive nominee of the GOP -- getting sidetracked almost daily by petty personal feuds and provocative statements -- Trump finally laid out a case against Clinton on foreign and domestic policy.

This speech should quiet some of the angst inside Republican circles about the quality of the campaign Trump is running (or not running). Opposition to the Clintons is one of the strongest strands in the GOP's DNA -- and now that decades-long animus seems to have found a focused champion in Donald Trump.

Josh Marshall's gloss on the speech was titled "For Trump, Almost Normal." Marshall thinks the prompter reined Trump in -- at least temporarily:

So what is it about this speech? The answer is pretty obvious: Trump was using a TelePrompTer, which is to say it wasn't him talking. In fact, pretty much all of Trumps TelePrompTer speeches have been this way. They're kind of plodding. They're clearly not him. But they're also not crazy, which given who we're talking about is not nothing. As I've argued, this is Trump's singular liability in this campaign. People think he's too erratic, crazy, belligerent, unhinged - pick your adjective - to be president. Relatedly, there are whole classes of citizens who think they're at best second class citizens in his eyes - women, Hispanics, blacks, basically anybody who's not a white man.

What has me mildly worried is the fact that the speech had zingers in it that were within the pale. The speech, although it had its share of slanderous lies, wasn't profoundly offensive -- yet it must have been a satisfying attack for Trump. If Trump can continue to find this sort of campaigning satisfying -- doling out scripted zingers that don't shock people but still sting -- he might abandon the all-id-all-the-time approach that put him on course to be the most hated presidential nominee ever.

Marshall has his doubts:

Personally, I think Trump has likely done himself too much damage to be able to overcome these [negative] impressions, which lets be clear, are entirely accurate impressions. Trump is a mercurial and emotional unstable racist and misogynist who is also a pathological liar.

... you have to wait 24 hours to have any idea how a Trump speech went. Why? Because once Trump is cut loose from the TelePrompTer ball and chain, he'll inevitably go on Hannity or O'Reilly and say something totally insane.

... Trump will always be Trump. I have no doubt he'll be back to being Trump very soon.

But maybe, if there's just enough invective in the prepared speeches, he'll abandon his free-form rants at rallies. Maybe his Lewandowski-less team will keep him off Twitter and limit his cable news phone-ins. He'll still be a racist know-nothing. But he'll be somewhat more dangerous as a candidate because he'll seem somewhat less dangerous as a potential president.

Meanwhile, Brian Beutler of The New Republic writes this about Hillary Clinton:

Clinton world is worried about Republicans dumping Donald Trump. Or perhaps that Trump will exit the race voluntarily before the GOP convention. In an otherwise straightforward article about Hillary Clinton’s running-mate selection process, Politico buries this fascinating lede.

The selection process, however, is colored by new uncertainty among Democratic donors and Clinton allies who are no longer convinced that Donald Trump is sure to be the GOP nominee. A big advantage of holding their convention second, Democrats said, was being able to make a final pick with full knowledge of the GOP ticket.

I read this to imply a couple things. First, Clinton will have an heir and a spare in mind: Her ideal running mate to announce should Trump officially secure the GOP nomination, and a more defensive pick should Republicans somehow deny it to him. Second, and relatedly, we’re unlikely to know who her running mate will be until late July.

A somewhat tamed, prompter-reading Trump probably won't have to worry about a challenge at the convention. So Trump may have found the formula that secures the nomination for him. Or maybe he'll cut loose again and the nomination will be at risk again.

The Politico story says that Virginia senator Tim Kaine is Clinton's top VP pick. Kaine boring and temperate and not a passionate progressive. Maybe that's what Clinton wants in a running mate most of all. Or maybe it's what she thinks matches up best against a ticket headed by Donald Trump. Against Trump, boring is good. If you're boring, maybe you look like the adult in the room when Trump is going off half-cocked. Maybe you look sane in a debate with a crazy Trump running mate -- Newt Gingrich, for instance.

So perhaps, as Beutler argues, Clinton would pick someone else if faced with a different opponent. But what if the ticket is a slightly tamed Trump plus a not-crazy-seeming running mate? (Though I don't know who fits that description -- Jeff Sessions?) Is Kaine the person Clinton would want? I don't know. But we'll see how this plays out.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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