It's been just over a month since Donald Trump effectively locked up his party's presidential nod, and already the phrase "Donald Trump is having a bad week" has become one of the more tired cliches in campaign journalism. With each news cycle, the political press corps has run itself in circles, rehashing the latest bizarre pitfall to befall Trump's White House bid—a controversial tweet, a racist remark, an astonishingly erratic response to a national crisis—only to wind up right back where it started, attempting to concoct some new narrative about why the presumptive Republican nominee can't get his shit together.
On Monday, for example, we learned the real estate mogul's campaign is, financially-speaking, FUBAR, with a presidential war chest of just $1.3 million cash-on-hand. Even some of Trump's Republican rivals, the ones he decidedly crushed in the primaries, somehow managed to have more cash on hand; Hillary Clinton has $42 million.
So it's perhaps not surprising that shortly thereafter, Trump's now infamous campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski—the former state trooper best known for roughing up a female reporter at a campaign "press conference" —was sacked, banished from Trump Tower to take shelter in whatever cable news greenroom would have him. Lewandowski, it turns out, didn't have a game plan to turn around the candidate's falling poll numbers and non-existent organization, or quell revived whispers of a #NeverTrump revolt at the GOP convention. In other words, he was fired for being bad at his job—although it's not clear how much blame he deserves for creating the shitpile the Trump campaign now finds itself in.
By Wednesday, though, none of this seemed to matter. Or rather, Trump just didn't seem to care. Appearing underneath a row of beautiful, classy chandeliers on the third floor of his SoHo hotel, the former reality star brushed off his campaign's self-inflicted wounds in the same way he has brushed off other ill-fated business ventures, and instead focused his crosshairs on his likely Democratic opponent—or as Trump referred to her, "maybe the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency."
It was the press conference Trump promised two weeks ago, on the final night of the primaries, when he teased an entire campaign event devoted exclusively to Bill and Hill and their Underwood-style machinations. In practice, it was two decades of right-wing theories about the money-grubbing Clintons and their maniacal egos, packed into a 41-minute medley starring Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton, Trump declared, "is a world class liar. 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," he noted ominously, "was destroyed for saying far less." From there it went deeper into conservative fever dreams, making detours through the Clinton Foundation, and his opponent's tenure at the State Department, with a particular emphasis on her relationship with Brunei.
"Hillary Clinton accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei when she was Secretary of State – plus millions more for her foundation," Trump recited, reading from a TelePrompTer loaded with tidbits from the vast anti-Clinton blogosphere. "The Sultan of Brunei has pushed oppressive sharia law, including the punishment of death by stoning for being gay. The government of Brunei also stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Hillary's Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she would absolutely approve if given the chance."
The speech was peppered with quotes, from the mother of someone killed in Benghazi, the mother of a police officer shot by an undocumented immigrant, the author of an anti-Clinton biography, a Secret Service agent describing the former First Lady as "volcanic, impulsive, [and] disdainful of the rules set for everyone else." It was a Greatest Hits of Hillary Hate—a fiery emotion that, at this point, seems to be the only thing keeping the GOP together.
In his more lucid moments, Trump offered an olive branch to "Bernie or Busters," dropping the word "rigged" seven times throughout the speech, and asking Bernie Sanders's supporters to join "our movement." At several points, Trump even seemed to channel the Vermont Senator himself, decrying Wall Street and the "special interest monopoly," and even using Sanders's own words to attack their shared opponent: "Hillary Clinton wants to be president," Trump declared, obviously pleased. "But she doesn't have the temperament, or, as Bernie Sanders' said, the judgement, to be president."
"She believes she is entitled to the office. Her campaign slogan is 'I'm with her,'" he continued. "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."
Though canned, it was nevertheless the most palpable, coherent breakdown of Clinton's vulnerabilities that he has delivered so far this election cycle. And really, if it hadn't been Donald Trump who delivered it, the speech would have been a pretty strong attack against Hillary; one can easily imagine Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz giving the same speech, hitting the same high notes on Benghazi, the emails, "Clinton cronyism."
The problem, of course, is that it was Donald Trump. After coasting through the Republican primaries with virtually no campaign finance operation, the free media that Trump relied on to carry his campaign seems to have finally backfired, preoccupied with his shitshow of a campaign, and not particularly interested in Clinton's relationship with the Sultan of Brunei.
Whether Trump likes it or not, this week's big election stories will be about the firing of Lewandowski, his money woes, and all the other signs of his campaign's slow-motion death spiral—not about a rehearsed speech he gave to reporters in downtown Manhattan one morning.
And Trump, more than anyone else, really, in modern politics, knows that once you lose the noise, you lose the election. So, at this point, he better start yelling.
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