Donald Trump’s attempt on Tuesday night to give a relatively normal political speech was, on its own terms, a success. Trump read from a teleprompter, kept the personal attacks to a minimum, and discussed actual issues by using about as many policy details as he can muster (not many.) The speech was a reminder that if Trump were even just a tad more normal or contained, he would have a real chance against Hillary Clinton in November. But he isn’t, and he probably doesn’t.
Don’t forget: Trump has tried this before. He’s given a couple other speeches with a teleprompter; he’s toned down his attacks after receiving criticism from the media and people in his own party (Tuesday night, he promised not to let the GOP down). And yet, within days, each and every time he has gone back to being the man he further revealed himself as this week: a bigot and racist with no self-control, a nasty streak, and a contempt for the press.
Trump walked out on Tuesday to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and took his place between his wife and daughter, who engaged in their normal competition of staring out into space with the most vacant possible look in their eyes. Trump offered his usual faux-grateful thank yous and mouthing of poll numbers and vote totals, but generally kept that to a minimum. He attacked Hillary and Bill Clinton in harsh but (for him) non-nasty terms, then made a plea to Bernie Sanders voters to swing his way.
When he got to the substance of the speech—trade and the problems with foreign intervention, primarily—he didn’t have much to add beyond his normal talking points. (He continues to place all of his policies into an “America First” paradigm.) But while the combination of eschewing personal insults and the more plodding and structured style of a speech given from a teleprompter made his performance appear awkward to longtime Trump watchers, more speeches like this one are probably his best chance to win in November.
For all the talk about Trump’s political genius and dominance of the airwaves through his outrageousness, this past week has been more proof that Trump-being-Trump is almost certainly not a route to an electoral majority. Winning a GOP primary is not the same as winning over America, and Trump has simply offended too many voting blocs, and come across as too unhinged, to win.
Despite his ability to temporarily tone it down when things get hot, Trump’s racial resentment, misogyny, and lack of control aren’t just part of some sick act. So rather than painting a picture of what a winning candidate looks like, Tuesday’s speech will more likely serve as a reminder of what could have been for the GOP—if Trump were not Trump.