This morning I wrote that Donald Trump’s only prayer of turning the presidential race around lay in shifting to the double-sided populism he should have employed all along, instead of wallowing in the bigoted morass of the alt right.
Today Trump delivered a speech at Gettysburg designed to tap into some of that populist potential. But he once again failed miserably by allowing his personal grievances, unbridled aggresion and misogynistic instincts to become the story.
The speech was supposed to be a presentation of what Trump would do in his first 100 days in office, and was billed as Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter,” obviously meant to echo the Gingrich “Contract with America” that helped create the Republican wave in 1994. To his credit, he did present some proposals that would be good reforms, along with some–like term limits–that would be terrible ideas but nonetheless have broad public support. The proposal of a five-year ban on executive and legislation officials becoming lobbyists after leaving government is a much-needed reform that almost certainly won’t see the light of day in a Clinton Administration, and the lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying for a foreign government is also a good idea–though given the Trump campaign’s close alliance with Putin this cycle, it does reek of hypocrisy. Finally, Trump’s opposition to the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger is quite helpful, and will hopefully help create a bipartisan push from right and left to oppose it.
Trump has mentioned most of these things before, though, and whether he would actually attempt to enact any of them once he reached the White House is another matter. But it still had the makings of the sort of pivot he would need to have a hope of stanching the bleeding.
But Donald Trump is Donald Trump. He couldn’t help himself. Instead of letting his proposals speak for themselves as the story of the day, he ranted about suing the women who accused him of sexual assault and unwanted advances. Predictably, that became the only real story reported from today’s speech, adding further fuel to the stinking dumpster fire of Trump’s personal failings.
Trump’s greatest flaw as a politician, irrespective of the morality of his stances and his alt right base, is not being able to let go. He insists on countering every attack on him with an even greater counter-aggression, as if that makes him look like the bigger man. Instead, it makes him look pathetic and weak–especially when his counterattacks are against Gold Star families and women he has abused. Men like Trump are a dime a dozen, and no matter how wealthy or “successful” they are, their toxic personalities usually destroy their reputations given enough scrutiny.
It was probably already too late for him, anyway. But allowing legal threats against his accusers to overshadow his last best chance for a populist closing argument is probably the final nail in his campaign’s coffin.