It was finally the day for Donald Trump to prove to the Republican Party that he wasn’t bat-shit crazy and he wasn’t going to drag them down to defeat in November. He has no money – well, he has one fortieth of what Hillary Clinton has – and no real campaign staff – seventy folks to her more than nine hundred – and he’d rather not ask the big donors for funds, and they don’t seem to want to pitch in anyway. And he has spent the last five weeks going off on tangents, offending every minority group in sight and not hitting Hillary Clinton when obvious opportunities arise. He’s their nominee and they’ve been forced, again and again, to say whether they agree with this or that odd thing he just said. Do you agree with your nominee that President Obama is likely a secret ISIS supporter and might have planned the Orlando massacre? They hem and haw – and then he starts ripping into each of them for being cowards and wimps – while the nation watches. This couldn’t go on. Something had to give.
That would be Donald Trump. He fired his young thug of a campaign manager, whose idea of managing the campaign had been to let Trump be Trump, which worked well with the riled-up base in the primaries but was clearly not working now, and turned to a few professionals at this sort of thing. He finally sent out a fundraising letter. He may hire more staff, if he can find a way to pay them. A communications director would be nice. And he finally agreed to give a speech about Hillary Clinton, not himself – an argument that would show she was unacceptable as president, and explain exactly why – and it would be scripted, read from a teleprompter. He’d not blurt out odd things that had just occurred to him. He’d stick to the script. He’d stay focused. He’d be forceful and dynamic of course, but he’d be a kind of normal person.
He’s not good at that, and he doesn’t seem to like being normal in any way, but he gave it a go, and the speech was as close to normal as the Republicans are going to get:
Donald J. Trump delivered a blistering attack on Wednesday against Hillary Clinton, calling her unreliable and more concerned with herself than with the American people as he sought to regain his footing after a tumultuous month that imperiled his candidacy.
In a 41-minute speech seeking to build his case against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee by labeling her a “world-class liar,” Mr. Trump moved to soothe concerns among Republicans alarmed by gaping self-inflected wounds after his racial attacks on a federal judge and his self-congratulatory boast after the terrorist shooting in Orlando, Fla. He said Mrs. Clinton would not create jobs, portraying her as a scandal-tarnished former secretary of state who “may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”
“The choice in this election is a choice between taking our government back from the special interests, or surrendering our last scrap of independence to their total and complete control,” Mr. Trump said.
Okay, it was a bit over the top. It was end-of-the-world scare stuff, but it was a start:
Since securing the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump has allowed himself to be pummeled by Democrats, doing little to fashion an overarching message or even to frame his view of the race. But on Wednesday, he moved to regain the offensive, making a forceful case that he chose to enter public service because of his concerns for the country, a contrast he tried to draw with Mrs. Clinton.
“She believes she is entitled to the office,” Mr. Trump said. “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.”
That would do:
The remarks were welcomed by Mr. Trump’s supporters, who have fretted that he is turning the campaign into a referendum on himself instead of President Obama and Mrs. Clinton.
Carl Paladino, a Trump ally who was in the room for the speech, said that the candidate “likes to speak extemporaneously” but that his more scripted approach on Wednesday was necessary.
“He told everybody why Hillary shouldn’t be there, he gave a factual foundation for those statements,” Mr. Paladino said. “That type of speech has to be scripted.”
That may be true, but one man’s factual foundation is another man’s bullshit:
Mr. Trump sought to portray Mrs. Clinton as responsible for the tumult in the Middle East, but her campaign tried to deprive the speech of attention by announcing that she had received the endorsement of Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George Bush. Mr. Trump explicitly blamed her for the death of United States Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a diplomatic outpost in Libya.
That wasn’t helpful, but Trump had other ammunition, even if he was firing blanks:
Mr. Trump began his speech with a focused message about jobs and the economy, lamenting a lost era in the United States of bringing change on a grand scale, and the absence of his signature boastfulness added gravitas.
But the address was denounced by Mr. Trump’s critics as a patchwork of cable-news-ready sound bites as opposed to a presentation of new ideas. Mr. Trump did little to lay out specifics of his agenda beyond attacking trade deals and immigration. And his new, more sober approach was undercut by factual inaccuracies and embellishments, as well as flimsy claims – at one point, Mr. Trump suggested that Mrs. Clinton was probably the victim of blackmail from Chinese hackers who gained access to her email account while she was the secretary of state.
Where the hell did that come from? Ah, Trump has his sources:
Mr. Trump quoted extensively from the book “Clinton Cash,” written by a Republican author who was forced to correct several inaccuracies after the book went to press. He said the United States was the “highest taxed country in the world,” which is not true. He said there might be five Supreme Court vacancies for the next president to fill, a number that has not been suggested before.
He wasn’t making stuff up on the spot of course. He was reading previously made-up stuff from the teleprompter, which may or may not be progress, and the rest was a struggle between ego and discipline:
“When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports, or the factories moving overseas to Mexico or to other countries, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “Only by me.”
Mr. Trump did use the speech to sand down the edges of his past remarks about Muslims, acknowledging that some people who follow Islam are “peaceful” while never mentioning his proposed ban on Muslim immigrants.
And then it was back to Hillary:
With the speech, Mr. Trump was trying to amplify Mrs. Clinton’s high negative poll ratings with voters, a majority of whom view her as dishonest, as he seeks to alter the current trajectory of the presidential campaign. He seized on controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and her tenure at the State Department to accuse her of “theft,” adding, “She ran the State Department like her own personal hedge fund.”
And then it was back to The Donald:
Mr. Trump, who once lamented in an interview that the turn of the century was the last time America was “great,” provided a hopeful message, suggesting the advent of a second industrial revolution during his presidency. “Massive new factories will come roaring into our country,” he said, “breathing life and hope into our communities.”
That theme, accompanied by his attacks on free trade, is one that Mr. Trump employed to great effect in the nominating fight, and some of his aides believe it could appeal to Sanders supporters in a general election.
While Mr. Sanders has yet to endorse Mrs. Clinton, he balked at the idea that his followers would support Mr. Trump.
“I suspect he ain’t going to get too many of those people,” Mr. Sanders said on C-SPAN when asked about Mr. Trump’s courting of his supporters. “I think the vast majority of the people who voted for me understand that Donald Trump, in a dozen different ways, is literally unfit to be president of the United States.”
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank highlights that by highlighting the crazy:
For years, the conspiracy-minded have been trying to prove that Hillary Clinton gave “stand-down” orders blocking the military from helping ambassador Chris Stevens and other U.S. personnel in Benghazi the night of the 2012 attacks. But Donald Trump asserts the opposite: Clinton was unconscious.
Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee declared Wednesday in an unfocused jeremiad against his Democratic opponent. “That’s right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at three o’clock in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping.”
That’s not right – unless Trump is accusing Clinton of taking an afternoon nap. Stevens and the others were attacked in the late afternoon, Washington time. Clinton, who was in Washington and closely involved in the response, issued a public statement about the attacks at 10 p.m. and wrote an email to her daughter about the matter an hour later – well before Trump’s imaginary 3 a.m. wake-up call.
That wasn’t all:
Trump quoted a “Secret Service agent posted outside the Oval Office” challenging Clinton’s character; the “agent” in question was a low-level official who wasn’t posted inside the White House.
Trump claimed Clinton’s email “server was easily hacked by foreign governments. … Sure they have it.” No evidence of successful hacking has been found.
Trump said “we are, by the way, the highest taxed nation in the world.” The United States is nowhere near the top.
He said “we could rebuild every inner city in America” with “the amount of money Hillary Clinton would like to spend on refugees.” The amount she would spend would be a sliver of just one large city’s budget.
He said Clinton “accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei.” He neglected to mention that the U.S. government, not Clinton, kept the gift.
He said the trade deficit “soared 40 percent” under Clinton; it actually rose less than half of that.
He said he was “among the earliest to criticize the rush to war” in Iraq; in September, 2002, he supported the Iraq invasion.
He alleged that Clinton’s State Department refused “all” security requests from U.S. diplomats in Libya; actually, a number were approved.
Trump’s volume of disinformation is so heavy that even the nimblest fact-checker can’t keep pace. And that’s no accident: In Trump’s dystopia, things are so bad – so utterly and desperately awful – that no allegation, no matter how sinister, seems implausible to his followers.
This was not normal:
In Trump’s dystopia, Clinton is “the biggest promoter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” and the fact that she has expressly opposed the deal just means “she’s pretending.” In Trump’s dystopia, Clinton “illegally stashed” her emails “to cover up her corrupt feelings,” and government investigators don’t “want to find them.”
All those worried Republicans expected “normal” but got talk of Hillary Clinton’s hidden “corrupt feelings” – whatever that means.
As for precise documented fact-checking, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte has all the details prefaced by this:
Donald Trump’s long-awaited speech Wednesday supposedly detailing the dirt he has on Hillary Clinton turned out to be exactly what critics expected: A diatribe of right-wing paranoia seemingly cribbed off all-caps email forwards sent to you by your grandfather. Much of it assumed an audience that already has spent years poring over anti-Clinton urban legends and that gets almost all its news from the Drudge Report.
It is also a fact-checking nightmare, a garbage truck of lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. It’s as if Trump is trying to overwhelm the fact-checkers with so many lies they simply give up.
They didn’t give up – the Marcotte item is one of hundreds. Trump can’t revoke the press credentials of every news organization in America if they all do this basic fact-checking. They get it. They’re ganging up on him, or conversely, finally just doing their job.
That might not be enough, as Slate’s Michelle Goldberg notes here:
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. Standing in a low-ceilinged conference room bedecked with square chandeliers in the Trump SoHo, a lawsuit-plagued hotel and condo development, 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.
That’s the sting:
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, many taken from Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash, were not obviously self-refuting. At one point, Trump said, citing Schweizer, “Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.” This has been debunked many times over, including by FactCheck.org.
To explain why it’s not true, though, you have to go into details about Clinton’s role on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which approved the sale of a Canadian-based energy company with American mining stakes to Russia’s nuclear energy agency. It’s a very different sort of lie than the one Trump told at a meeting of evangelicals on Tuesday when he said there’s “nothing out there” about Hillary Clinton’s religion – in fact, her Methodism is extremely well-known even to her political enemies.
When the truth is complicated, Trump wins:
Like all skillful demagoguery, Trump’s speech on Wednesday interwove truth and falsehood into a plausible-seeming picture meant to reinforce listeners’ underlying beliefs. In May, Morning Consult polled people with an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton about why they didn’t like her. Fifty-eight percent said she was too liberal, while 22 percent said she was too conservative. But 82 percent of Hillary-averse voters said she was corrupt, and 88 percent said she was untrustworthy. These are the beliefs that unite her foes across the political spectrum. It’s why Trump, with his devious talent for derisive nicknames, was smart to dub her “Crooked Hillary.”
And there’s this:
Some of the examples Trump chose to reinforce this caricature are true. Describing Clinton as “a world-class liar,” he said, “Just look at her pathetic email and server statements, or her phony landing in Bosnia where she said she was under attack but the attack turned out to be young girls handing her flowers, a total self-serving lie. Brian Williams’ career was destroyed for saying far less.” One could quibble about whose exaggerations have been greater, but Clinton’s Bosnia tale really was mostly made up, and it will likely haunt her throughout the campaign.
Perhaps so, but the rest isn’t much:
At the close of her Wednesday rally in North Carolina, Hillary Clinton directly responded to remarks that Donald Trump made hours earlier in a speech focused on attacking her qualifications.
“I know Donald hates it when anyone points out how hollow his sales pitch really is,” she said. “I guess my speech yesterday must have gotten under his skin, because right away he lashed out on Twitter with outlandish lies and conspiracy theories and he did the same in his speech today. Now, think about it. He’s going after me personally because he has no answers on the substance.”
She easily shifted the topic, and she did have this in her pocket:
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president on Wednesday.
“Secretary Clinton shares my belief that America must remain the world’s indispensable leader,” Scowcroft said in a statement, touting her experience as secretary of state. “She understands that our leadership and engagement beyond our borders makes the world, and therefore the United States, more secure and prosperous. She appreciates that it is essential to maintain our strong military advantage, but that force must only be used as a last resort.”
Clinton, Scowcroft stated, “brings deep expertise in international affairs, and a sophisticated understanding of the world,” qualities he described as “essential for the Commander-in-Chief.”
“Her longstanding relationships with a wide array of world leaders, and their sense of her as a strong and reliable counterpart, make her uniquely prepared for the highest office in the land,” he added.
Scowcroft’s endorsement comes after his fellow foreign-policy realist Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, told POLITICO last week that he would support Clinton over Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee.
They were not obsessed with her deeply hidden secret “corrupt feelings” – she can do the job and Trump cannot. He’s not normal, although Josh Marshall offers this:
Once you got past the febrile Hillary bashing, the most notable thing about the speech was how relatively normal it was.
He hit on some basic themes of economic nationalism, a less interventionist foreign policy. He even had a good turn of phrase skewering Hillary’s “I’m with her” slogans and shifting it to ‘I’m with you.’ All good politicians find ways to turn the natural personality cult of high level politics back to a focus on the individual voter. Trump’s not a natural electoral politician. He’s a natural rabble rouser. But this was an effective turn of phrase. He also followed up with the claim at least that last night’s email fundraising appeal brought in an impressive two million dollars.
So he did come close to something like normal:
Now is this an incredibly low bar? Yes, of course it is. I’m setting aside numerous lies, totally unsubstantiated claims, many of which might well amount to slander, even by the almost impossible standards which apply to public officials. Trump’s ability to lie without even the slightest pretense of covering his tracks or caring is unprecedented in modern presidential politics. But it’s worth noting nonetheless.
Trump did come closer to normal, but for a reason:
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.
Personally, I think Trump has likely done himself too much damage to be able to overcome these impressions, which let’s be clear, are entirely accurate impressions. Trump is a mercurial and emotional unstable racist and misogynist who is also a pathological liar.
That means nothing much changed with this speech:
Nicole Wallace, a former Bush White House Communications official said that the speech seemed pretty normal – maybe even good – but that wasn’t the point. Because 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.
The struggle between ego and discipline will continue:
For me there are basic rules of thumb: Trump has very little money and Trump will always be Trump. I have no doubt he’ll be back to being Trump very soon. But there’s a family around him who may not care terribly about the presidency but cares a lot about their inheritance. There’s a massive GOP party infrastructure that at least wants to make this a competitive race. What I’ll be watching is how successful both those groups are in keeping Trump from being Trump in public as much as possible for the next several months. I doubt they’ll be able to do it. Remember, Trump will always be Trump. I also think too much damage has been done for it to be enough if they were able to. But that’s what I’m going to be watching.
America will be watching. This may be the first presidential election year where everyone is waiting to see whether one of the two major candidates is actually bat-shit crazy.
On the other hand, they could be watching this:
Rank-and-file Democrats on Wednesday laid siege to the House chamber for a daylong sit-in demanding votes to tighten the nation’s gun control laws, but House Republicans forced a late-night confrontation as Speaker Paul D. Ryan banged his gavel in an effort to resume regular legislative business.
It was a remarkable scene of pandemonium on the House floor. Democrats sought to shout down Mr. Ryan, chanting, “No bill! No break!” as they reiterated their demand for a vote on the gun measures before a weeklong recess for the July 4th holiday.
Democrats held up signs with the names of shooting victims. Some Republicans shouted in outrage, while Democrats began singing “We Shall Overcome,” altering the lyrics at times to sing, “We shall pass a bill some day.”
At one point, aides and colleagues appeared to physically restrain Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska, from approaching the chanting Democrats.
Democrats pressed against the front of the podium, waving their signs in front of Mr. Ryan. While he succeeded in reclaiming control over the chamber, at least for the purposes of a single vote, there was little doubt that the minority Democrats were the dominant force of the evening.
As Mr. Ryan exited the speaker’s chair, the Democrats shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
People are shouting that at Republicans a lot these days. Now it’s more than Donald Trump, who this day only edged closer to being somewhat normal, and didn’t quite get there. Expect more shouting.