Donald Trump on Monday attempted to reset his struggling campaign with a speech outlining his economic agenda. He described a plan that stitches together mostly traditional, supply-side prescriptions — cutting the top individual tax rate to 33% and the corporate rate to 15%, ending the estate tax, and imposing a moratorium on new regulation — with his protectionist approach to trade that’s had business howling.
The address has received mixed reviews. But at least for the Trump campaign, for a moment, the focus was on substance, rather than the candidate’s latest conspiracy theory or salvo in one of his ongoing feuds.
If the Trump campaign’s hope was to stanch the bleeding from the rolling disaster that was last week, the early returns are not particularly encouraging. The newly buttoned-down, on-message Trump survived until 6:45pm, when he suggested via a tweet that Hillary Clinton’s “hacked emails” were responsible for the execution of an Iranian nuclear scientist, citing as evidence that “many people” have said so.
Meanwhile, high-profile Republican defections continued to mount. Fifty top Republican national security figures released a letter declaring Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history” and endanger “our country’s national security and well-being.” And Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from a state where Trump hopes to pick up an electoral vote, published an op-ed announcing she won’t support him. Collins pointed in part to the candidate’s post-primary failure to “focus on jobs and the economy, tone down his rhetoric, develop more thoughtful policies and, yes, apologize for ill-tempered rants.”
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Trump so far has ignored the Collins snub. But his campaign released a statement responding to the national security officials’ letter, donning it as a badge of honor. “The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in this country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place,” his statement read. “They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions.”
The response feels like a relevant footnote to yesterday’s post in this space. It looked at the New York Times investigation into think tanks courting corporate sponsors and the risk the practice poses for an arguably imperiled expert class. Trump knows he owes his success so far in part to a popular rejection of the Washington establishment. The officials who signed the Monday letter draw their credibility from decades of service at the top levels of government. Trump, who’s never served, hews to a different standard, as he makes clear when he cites the speculation of “many people” as evidence his Democratic opponent’s emails got a scientist killed.
Monday’s economic address notwithstanding, that is the candidate he’s been and will continue to be, though his appeal to GOP primary voters doesn’t appear to be translating to a general-election audience.