Littwin: Trump’s new strategy? Speak softly and say the same outrageous things

If you watched Donald Trump’s low-volume, slow-motion, NASCAR-on-yellow speech on foreign “policy,” you now understand the problem.

Trump said many of the same headline-making ridiculous things he usually says, but he said them much more quietly and using his grown-up words.

Meaning, I’m guessing, that hardly anyone will have even noticed.

After a weekend in which The New York Times rattled Trump by revealing that his staff and advisers have all but given up on trying to make him seem as if he’s actually interested in winning the presidency, Trump had to do something. So he delivered one of his rare, serious-sounding, prompter-read speeches that, like most campaign speeches, risks putting the audience to sleep.  

He didn’t call anyone crooked, not even Hillary, whom he called Secretary Clinton as if, you know, that was her actual title. He didn’t say that Obama founded ISIS or even that he sympathized with terrorists. He didn’t call for a ban on an entire religion, although the temporary ban on Muslim immigrants is still on his website. He didn’t have anything to say about Mexican/Indiana judges or Gold Star parents or Second Amendment people/hit squads.

He was on his best behavior. And yet.

What’s the point of saying we need to do extreme vetting on immigrants — in a nod, it seemed to me, toward either McCarthyism or a new X-Games sport — if you can’t snarl that the corrupt and disgusting and misleading media are going to misconstrue everything you say and cause you, a known winner, to be smacked around by Hillary Clinton in all the polls?

Instead, he got gentle mockery about his “commission” — since when does Donald Trump need a commission? — to “expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.” And a little-less-gentle mockery about just how extreme his vetting would have to be in order to root out second-generation terrorism.

If you listened carefully, you did hear Trump question Clinton’s “physical stamina,” a nod to the Hannity campaign on Clinton’s so-called seizures, which is a step up, I guess, from going after Clinton for so-called murders.

He said, once again, that he would have taken Iraq oil, which seems illegal, and that he would have done it somehow without leaving troops on the ground. But I nearly missed it. And though he said he opposed the war in Iraq (he didn’t) and that he opposed the invasion of Libya (he didn’t) and that he longed for the days when dictators ruled the Middle East, it doesn’t have quite the same edge if you couldn’t have Muslims cheering somewhere in New Jersey. The best the could do was throw in the entirely fabricated line about the San Bernadino killers’ neighbors seeing bombs lying all over the floor but not reporting them to police because of, you guessed it, political correctness. It would have been a horrible thing to say, but he has said it so many times before — and usually much, much louder.

Still, you couldn’t miss his air kiss to Putin, but come on, it’s Putie. And his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, probably slipped it onto the prompter feed.

So, here’s where we are. Trump is cratering in the polls. He has turned purple states like Colorado and Virginia into various shades of blue, even as he campaigns in ultra-blue, no-chance Connecticut.

He can’t get attention without being outrageous. And the more outrageous he is, the more he turns off voters, particularly female voters, and even, if the polls are right, Republican and Republican-leaning women.

Remember 2014, when Mark Udall was Senator Uterus and was blamed for turning the 2014 race against Cory Gardner into a referendum on women’s issues? In 2016, Trump is showing how to lose the women’s vote without even mentioning women’s issues, if you don’t include the issue of insulting women’s looks or, say, the former Secretary of State’s physical and mental stamina.

We know how toxic Trump is for Colorado Republicans. Cory “There Is No Presidential Race” Gardner continues to ignore the presidential race (if there is one). Darry Glenn, who, uh, bravely latched on to Trump, went to the RedState Gathering last weekend and apparently didn’t mention Trump at all. In fact, his big moment came when running from reporters asking him about why he seemed to suggest that Barack Obama had personally directed the FBI to ignore the Orlando shooter.

And so, Trump is losing by 14 points in Colorado, and in the latest Virginia poll, he’s losing by 14 points there. Trump is reduced to saying that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is by being cheated and calling for his people (I’m not sure which amendment applies here; maybe it’s an article) to do some poll-watching and make sure this thing isn’t rigged.

It’s no wonder the Clinton super PACs are abandoning, at least in the near term, Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Nate Silver’s model at fivethirtyeight.com gives Clinton an 89 percent chance to win. The betting markets have broken 80. And as you’ll be reminded often over the next week or so, no candidate since Harry Truman has trailed in the polls two weeks after the conventions and gone on to win the popular vote.

What can Trump do if letting Trump be Trump isn’t working and not letting Trump be Trump isn’t working? Meanwhile, Uncle Joe Biden joins Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail and steals the headlines by saying that if Trump enjoys authoritarians like Putin so much, he would have surely loved Uncle Joe Stalin. I’m sure Trump was enraged — with jealousy.

Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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