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.
Trump didn’t hold back in a blistering speech Wednesday. He went through chapter and verse of every criticism — based in fact or conspiracy theory — against the Clintons. In sum, Trump said, Hillary Clinton may be “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States” and a “world-class liar.”
The speech will be fact-checked, and before it was even delivered, the Clinton campaign and its allies were pushing back with a detailed rebuttal. Nevertheless, 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.
It’s the speech Republicans have been itching to hear, in a crystallized way, since the 1990s. Trump gave them exactly what they wanted and likely quelled some fears about his candidacy. They might not be totally behind him, but Republicans are virulently opposed to her.
And the best way to galvanize people who should be on your team is to find a common enemy.
During the primaries, Trump was the best message candidate of the field — “Make America Great Again” and “America First” were simple and powerful themes that captured the imagination of a plurality of Republican primary voters.
After wandering away from that laser focus on “change,” he seemed to get back to it on Wednesday. He also framed the 2016 election as a battle between change and the status quo. He tapped into the widespread frustration and anger at the establishment that has fueled his own improbable rise to lead the Republican Party.
The system is “rigged,” he said over and over, and he laid out the choice voters face this fall:
“Hillary Clinton’s message is old and tired. Her message is that things can’t change. My message is that things have to change.”
Some of the speech will not stand up to scrutiny. It’s based on a lot of innuendo and discredited sources. But it also contained the comprehensive critique of the Clintons that Republicans have been desperate for their standard-bearer to deliver.
In his speech today, Trump was disciplined, for a change. He read from a text; he stayed on message. Those things alone will provide a kind of catharsis for Republicans who were on the verge of giving up on Trump.
It is late June, and Trump has wasted a lot of time — he has not built a field organization; he has very little cash on hand, and no TV advertising — yet. But there are five months left until Election Day (an “eternity,” using the political cliche).
And today Trump showed he is willing to act just enough like a general election candidate for GOP donors, political professionals and nervous members of Congress to heave a little sigh of relief.
Whether it makes a difference with anyone outside the base is a different question.