Donald Trump is the internet troll of presidential politics. When he’s securely removed from the objects of his scorn, he’s tough as nails; when he’s in their presence, he quivers like a bowl of Jell-O.Joe Scarborough noticed:
... Trump has spent the whole of his campaign maligning Mexican immigrants, people of “Mexican heritage” and the country of Mexico itself.
... And yet, when he made the quick decision to visit Mexico Wednesday and meet with that country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump was much more contrite in his comments....
WILLIE GEIST: ... for anyone who doubted it, for what he did in Mexico City, he went to Phoenix and said it about ten times: "One hundred percent, they will pay for the wall!"And the Clinton campaign noticed:
SCARBOROUGH: Exactly! But he was just there a couple of hours earlier, and he had the guy in front of him across the table, and ... he choked! ... No, he choked! ... I can't stand people that choke under pressure!
A wall that Mexico will pay for: a bad idea from an even worse negotiator. pic.twitter.com/RZfOKe45RO— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2016
This is a tough argument to make: You know that really bad idea Trump has? He doesn't have the guts to carry it out! It's like the old joke you might remember from Annie Hall: "The food is terrible!" "And such small portions!"
And yet: Could the Clinton campaign possibly persuade any angry white men that Trump might not be the tough guy he claims to be? Could she make the case that maybe he's a terrible person to have in negotiations if you like toughness, because his alleged toughness is all an act? Maybe if she attacks him this way persistently and the message catches on with other voters, or the media?
It could backfire, of course. It could suggest that he's not really that dangerous, and thus a vote for him isn't a big risk.
On the other hand, it could motivate him to want to prove his toughness by being even more hardcore, and thus even more alienating to voters in the middle. It could motivate him to question the advice of Ivanka and Jared and Kellyanne, and everyone else who tells him to "soften" and be more statesmanlike.
After last night's speech, of course, it's possible that he's through with the soft stuff. So there may not be much point in goading him to be the worst of his several awful selves.
But maybe it could work. I just can't tell.