- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s speech Wednesday about Hillary Clinton represents the Democrats’ worst nightmare, a speech that even the liberal news site Slate.com called “terrifyingly effective.”

Finally — finally! — the GOP has a leader who is willing to take it to Mrs. Clinton, reveal her litany of scandals and make the case that she is a “world-class liar.” His ability to define her as corrupt and reckless was impressive. The one-liners were especially memorable, from “Hillary Clinton has perfected the politics of personal profit and theft” to “She gets rich making you poorer.”

While his message was powerful, Mr. Trump still has much to do to convince the GOP establishment that he is developing a robust political and grass-roots strategy — and has the discipline to implement it effectively in a general election. It has been nearly seven weeks since Mr. Trump clinched the Republican nomination, and during that time, he has made little progress in expanding his campaign and solidifying support within the Republican Party.

Instead, many in the GOP have been growing increasingly anxious as the candidate stumbled in a series of mishaps, distractions and mixed messages, including his public criticism of a Mexican-American judge’s ethnicity and his disjointed response to the Orlando gay nightclub massacre. Falling poll numbers and dismal fundraising added to the pressure for significant change within the campaign. The exit of Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was the first signal that the “Let Trump be Trump” model was about to end.

That mixed backdrop is what makes the Clinton speech this week such a defining moment of Mr. Trump’s personal and political revival. The king of branding, Mr. Trump performs best when he is on the defense. After weeks of being attacked by the Clinton camp, Mr. Trump delivered a staggering counterpunch by ruthlessly exposing Mrs. Clinton’s own many weaknesses.

This speech should stand as the cornerstone of his entire campaign, encapsulating all the reasons why a historic number of GOP and independent voters supported the billionaire developer in the primaries. It provided clarity on the problems that our nation faces and the solutions needed, as well as on Mr. Trump’s own vision for his first 100 days in the Oval Office. Mr. Trump’s message and performance could also jump-start the process of calming anxiety-ridden and skeptical Republicans.

Why? Because Mr. Trump returned to the basics: a populist economic message of “America First,” one that would benefit all Americans — minorities, whites, women and even Bernie Sanders supporters. “The insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money,” Mr. Trump noted at one point. “That’s why we’re asking Bernie Sanders’ voters to join our movement, so together we can fix the system for all Americans.”

It’s not just the political system that is rigged against ordinary Americans, Mr. Trump added, “it’s the whole economy.”

This address should be his stump speech everywhere he travels, the inspiration for television and radio ads and fundraising letters. Mr. Trump prides himself on operating a “leaner and meaner” campaign, but he needs to invest in grass-roots and coalition-building efforts and fundraising campaigns, especially with small donors, many of whom already attend his rallies. Mr. Trump sent out his first fundraising letter this week, and the campaign says the response was overwhelming, raising a record $2 million in 12 hours.

Mrs. Clinton should be scared. Mr. Trump has tapped into the frustrations of many Americans who feel the effects of a dismal economy and believe the political system is rigged and owned by the establishment. Mrs. Clinton is the embodiment of a corrupt establishment owned by special interests, having personally enriched herself by giving closed-door speeches to Wall Street firms and the big banks.

The question will be whether Mr. Trump can stay disciplined and “on message” for the long haul. He has no choice if he wants to win the presidency. His road ahead is tough, but this week’s devastating speech demonstrated that he can make Mrs. Clinton the most unlikable and untrustworthy candidate in the race, and that he understands the plight of so many disillusioned Americans.

Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.

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