Donald Trump campaigning in Fredericksburg, Va., Aug. 20, 2016

Trump-Clinton: We’ve Seen This Before

By Mark Silva

Now that the guilt-clearing is out of the way, it’s clear that phase two of the American presidential campaign didn’t start after the party’s conventions.

It started this week.

And it’s going to look a lot like most other campaigns.

With a Sinatra-like “My Way” admission of “regrets, I’ve had a few,” Donald Trump allowed midweek that some of his words have been ill-chosen — without offering any direct apology to the parents of an American Muslim soldier killed in Iraq whom he criticized or to any number of political rivals or people in general denounced in hyphenated assaults on Twitter and live.

And with a sign that even an old yellow dog can learn new tricks, the brash billionaire who has played the campaign rally like a jazz musician, riffing off the vibes of the audience, careering into unprompted insults of opponents and great classes of people alike, has suddenly heeled to the TelePrompTer he long ridiculed others for using like that dog on a short, sharp chain.

Facing slumping polls in battleground states and nationwide, the candidate who prided himself on dominance in the polls throughout the primaries has thrown out the people who were running his primary and then post-convention campaigns and embraced a disciplined set of professional operatives and street-fighters: Kellyanne Conway, a pollster with a record of appealing to the female voters whom Trump has virtually lost, and Steve Bannon, the Breitbart publisher who privately has called the party’s leaders “cunts” and has suggested in one interview that he deploys the label of “raging cunt” as a good attention-getter when necessary.

Gone are the regrets.

Trump got over that Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C.

Now comes Trump 2.0:

— A focused assault on Hillary Clinton.

— An almost technocratic explanation of how he can “Make America Great Again,” tackling a regulatory morass governing everything from energy to education and immigration, and fighting the war against international terrorism as well as the war for “law and order” at home.

Yet Trump 2.0 still confronts the challenge of Trump 1.0:

“If we win in the state of Virginia, we are going to the White House,’’ Trump said at a rally in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Saturday evening.

Trump is trailing Clinton by 11.2 percentage points in the average of public opinion polls in Virginia, which President Barack Obama won twice — the first Democrat since the 1960s to carry a state whose population has changed dramatically since then.

In a state where the average home-improvement task is handled by a hard-working, highly skilled crew of immigrants, Trump complained this evening that Tim Kaine, the senator and former governor serving as Clinton’s running mate, allowed illegal immigration to flow unchecked here.

“The Illegal immigrant population has nearly tripled in Virginia since 2000,” said Trump, reiterating a familiar promise: “We’re gonna build a wall, don’t worry.” And, yes, Mexico will pay for it — cue cheering crowd.

In Virginia, Trump said, Clinton is “banking on her friend, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to get thousands of felons” to the polls and vote for her.

Part One of Trump’s carefully scripted, post-improvisational speech in Fredericksburg focused clearly on Clinton — “sometimes referred to as Crooked Hillary” (in his own speeches and tweets) — “Hillary Clinton will make America poor — you’re gonna lose your jobs, lose your wages, lose your medical… Hillary Clinton will finish off the mining industry for good… Hillary Clinton’s energy agenda is a massive tax on the poor.”

And then this, for which those words of “regret” are now archived: “She doesn’t have the strength or the stamina.”

She sleeps a lot, he keeps insisting.

“Hillary Clinton is a throwback from yesterday,” said Trump, which oddly prompted thoughts of the 1992 Democratic National Convention at which the Clintons and Gores took the stage to the song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” Trump says: “My opponent is the corporate defender of a totally rigged system and a failed status quo.”

So going forward, as the traditional starting bell of Labor Day approaches, Trump, confronting overwhelming odds in the states where the Electoral Vote will be won and shedding the free-style invective that has characterized his campaign to date, appears determined to press ahead with a far more disciplined assault on Clinton and a litany of promises to make the country better.

Trump, whose improvisational skills still find some outlet at Twitter, asked one night during this week of regrets: “Where’s Hillary? — still sleeping.” An associate replied that, actually, she was dining with Bill Clinton on Martha’s Vineyard, celebrating the former president’s 70th birthday.

Clinton, who enters the general election campaign with the same folks who brought her to the primary dance, remains on message and focus-group disciplined: She will “make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes,” her campaign tweeted this week. Trump, they warned, “will give huge tax cuts to billionaires and millionaires like himself.”

Which sounds like a fairly traditional campaign after all.

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