- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump faces only one hurdle in becoming the next president of the United States, but it’s a big one: Does he have the right temperament for the Oval Office?

Until November, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her surrogates are going to make the case he doesn’t, because it’s their only calling card, and Mr. Trump is easily baited.

With a stalling economy, Americans hungering for political change, and a disastrous foreign-policy resume under her belt, Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have a record to run on. She, along with Mr. Trump, is wildly unpopular, but only Mrs. Clinton has mishandled classified information and continually lies about it. Her honest and trustworthy numbers continue to hang in the mid-30s in polls. Dismal.

Mr. Trump’s economic message is powerful, as is his argument as a change-agent. Americans are responding to Mr. Trump’s big-picture outlook — to make America great again — and like his vision, even if they’re not exactly sure how he’s going to get them there. They’re tired of the status quo and are ready to mix things up.

But just how ready are they?

That’s the simple, yet million-dollar question.

“With both parties spinning out of their conventions, and the general-election campaign now essentially in full-swing, one megaquestion hovers over the whole affair: Will enough Americans get comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump as president?” writes Gerald Seib, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal.

“If they do, the presidential race will likely be a close one. … On the other hand, if Americans can’t see a man so brash and unpredictable — traits punctuated by his argument with the parents of a Muslim Army captain killed in Iraq — as their president, Mr. Trump will hit a ceiling and won’t be able to rise further. Hillary Clinton will be president,” Mr. Seib concluded.

And he’s exactly right — it’s all going to come down to the temperament question.

So far, Mr. Trump hasn’t done himself any favors in this arena. It’s the one argument the #NeverTrump camp continually poses against him — that because of Mr. Trump’s outbursts, they simply can’t trust him to carry out a principled Republican agenda. Bret Stephens, also at the Journal, wrote this week that Mr. Trump has a “black soul,” after defending himself against Khizr Khan’s attacks.

I don’t believe Mr. Trump has a “black soul” so much as he has a thin skin. I also don’t think having a thin skin disqualifies you from becoming president. President Obama often bristles and acts out at the slightest provocation, and Mrs. Clinton is so unpredictable in her outbursts she’s gone 241 days without holding a press conference.

But it will be up to Mr. Trump himself to become more disciplined, to silence these dissenting voices by not giving them the bait they need for their “temperament” arguments.

For these temperament arguments are holding sway with two key constituencies Mr. Trump needs to win: Married women and white, college-educated males. Although their vote isn’t sufficient enough to win the general election alone, it is necessary.

And articles questioning Mr. Trump’s mental health aren’t winning them over.

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, liberal columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column titled “Is Trump just plain crazy.” Conservative talk-show host Joe Scarborough openly questioned — for three hours on his MSNBC “Morning Joe” program — Mr. Trump’s mental stability and predicted a GOP loss come November.

And Mrs. Clinton is driving the temperament issue home.

“[Mr. Trump] loses his cool at the slightest provocation,” Mrs. Clinton said during her convention night speech in Philadelphia. “When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protester at a rally. Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis.”

I can’t imagine her in the Oval Office — that would be a real crisis. But that’s besides the point — we’re talking about Mr. Trump.

And the bottom line is, he has time. After four days speaking or tweeting about the Khan controversy, Mr. Trump abruptly stopped. He refocused his message on the economy and jobs. He self-corrected.

When the Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked Newt Gingrich if Mr. Trump had the ability to stay on message — to allow the news media to print whatever unprincipled garbage it wants, while staying above the fray — Mr. Gingrich thought so.

“Yes. I think he’s a very smart man,” Mr. Gingrich said. “This is not a guy who’s gotten to this point by being stupid. But it’s a different game. The general election is faster. He has August to practice. Think of August as Trump’s exhibition season.”

It’s going to be Mr. Trump’s challenge in these next 90-some-odd days until the general election to prove to the American public that he can, as Mr. Seib wrote — pass the “plausibility test.”

And it all starts with keeping his eye — and punches — on Mrs. Clinton, and her and her record alone. Everything else is a distraction.

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