Another speech, another attempt by Donald Trump to reset his struggling campaign and execute the elusive pivot to a real general election campaign that Republicans have long been hoping for.
In a major foreign policy speech Monday, aided by teleprompters, Trump lambasted Hillary Clinton as lacking the judgment to be commander in chief and expanded on his proposed Muslim ban.
While fact checkers will point out some whoppers, the speech at least stuck to Trump’s core message, rather than distracting from it — which counts as an significant accomplishment these days.
The question is whether this latest attempted reset will stick.
Trump's track record is not good. Time and again, Trump has given a major reset speech, aided by teleprompters, only to lose control of his mouth hours or days later:
In March, Trump gave one of his first telepromter speeches to the pro-Israel group AIPAC, which pro-Israel activist Josh Block called “an important opportunity for him both to pivot to a more serious approach on foreign policy, and to provide the kind of specifics that people are looking for." The next day, Trump began attacking Ted Cruz’ wife.
In late April, Trump gave a sober foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C., that was widely seen as an attempted to position his campaign for the general election. It worked ... for a few days. On May 3, the same day the chairman of the Republican Party declared Trump the party’s presumptive nominee, the former reality TV star questioned whether Cruz’ father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In May, Trump used a teleprompter during a speech to the NRA, giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the impression the candidate was going to start preparing more of his speeches. That was a Friday. On the following Monday, Trump accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and called Vince Foster’s death “very fishy.”
In June, after more controversy, Trump used a speech on the night of the final primary contest to say, “I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle" of the GOP. Republican Rep. Chris Collins hailed the speech a "total pivot," telling the AP, "I'm convinced we'll see a very disciplined GOP nominee moving forward." Three days later, Trump was back to mocking Mitt Romney, whom he called a "stone cold loser," and Jeb Bush, whom be dubbed, "Jebba." Trump added of the party he now leads: “The Republican Party should really get their act together.”
Later in June, Trump responded to criticism that his campaign was too much about himself by trying to reset the race once again with a speech blasting Clinton. But Trump once again stomped on his good news by taking a highly unusual trip to Scotland to visit his golf course, where his comments on the recent Brexit vote were seen as uninformed and "bizarre."
In July, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus promised Trump’s speech at the Republican convention would “go a long way for Donald Trump in pivoting to the general.” While pundits regarded the speech as a bit too-long and a bit too-gloomy, it was at least on message. But in a press conference the very next morning, Trump veered off course when he once again linked Cruz’ father to the JFK assassination and defended the National Enquirer's journalistic standards.
Last week, after what was widely considered one of the worst weeks of his campaign, Trump looked for the reset button once again with an economic speech. The speech, campaign chairman Paul Manafort told Fox Business, would get "the campaign back on where it belongs.” But within hours the speech got buried under Trump’s talk about second amendment remedies, a rigged election, and a claim about Clinton’s email that the Washington Post’s fact checker dubbed “among the stupidest claims made so far in this campaign.”
Sure, this time could be different. Trump could be reaching some kind of rock bottom and finally realize he has a problem. He’s suggested, after all, that he’s just biding his time for a late-breaking surge. "I haven't spent anything," Trump said while campaigning in Miami. "That's okay, we sit back and wait."
When Democrats think about what could possibly go wrong between now and November, Trump suddenly becoming a disciplined candidate isn’t often at the top of their lists.
But it’s always a possibility.
“Trump has had a terrible month that no ‘pivot’ has corrected, but the biggest threat to Democrats is overconfidence and complacency,” said Ben LaBolt, a former Obama campaign aide. “Some voters won't tune in closely until after Labor Day, and while Trump has yet to be able to stay on message, there's a chance he could glue together a more lasting course correction by the time it really matters.”
Still, Trump told CNBC last week, “I’ll just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now.”