Donald Trump has given hundreds, perhaps thousands of speeches and says a lot of things, but something about his meandering word slurry of an address Wednesday night in Cincinnati felt like a departure even by Trumpian rhetorical standards. The Donald was uncommonly loose, unbuttoned to the point of intoxication, as he ticked off his normal stump talking points while veering into variety show-style mimicry that surpassed his previous speeches not in venom, but in stagecraft.
It was a startlingly bizarre performance by a loose and limber Trump and the tone and timing again underscored his deep flaws as a candidate. Unsurprisingly, no slight went unaddressed, no provocation unmet as the presumptive Republican nominee for president pored over every comment and controversy of the last week from charges of anti-Semitism to his praise for Saddam Hussein to whether or not he plays golf, as if somehow resolving that issue would… what? At one point, Trump stopped his remarks to comment, out loud in an affected tone, on a mosquito buzzing near him.
All of this came at a time when Trump, more than ever, had his opponent Hillary Clinton on the ropes a day after FBI Director James Comey declined to recommend criminal prosecution of the former Secretary of State for her email usage and just minutes after Attorney General Loretta Lynch did likewise. It could have been Trump’s moment, if he wanted to be president more than he wanted to be heard. But more than ever Trump seemed to luxuriate at the podium, the pauses even more pregnant than usual, the punchlines more pronounced, and while it seemed vaudevillian, it did not appear presidential. That might not come as a surprise given Trump’s track record, but at each previous turn, Trump angled strategically. This felt suspiciously like a candidate who had run out of angles. Someone who had either quit or lost touch with what it would take to win. Or even worse, this was the performance of someone who saw an opportunity—maybe, just maybe—to be president and it terrified him.