Canton, Ohio—The Donald Trump who strode onto the stage here at the Canton Memorial Civic Center last night was a Trump this reporter hadn’t seen before. The Rolling Stones provided the usual tough-love soundtrack—“You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” followed by “Time Is on My Side.” And Trump ad-libbed a two-fer denigration of President Obama and Secretary Clinton: “Why isn’t he working—instead of campaigning for crooked Hillary?”
For the most part, though, the Republican nominee stuck to his teleprompter—and to a script that, thanks to the opening gifted him by Clinton’s condemnation of his supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” clung, awkwardly but mostly effectively, to the high ground. “Hillary Clinton calls people who aren’t supporting her deplorable and irredeemable. I call people who aren’t supporting me American citizens—who are entitled to the same respect as anyone else—and I will not stop campaigning for every last American vote, in every last American community, right up until November 8th.”
Sounding at times like the love child of Bill Clinton and Ben Grimm, Trump told the overwhelmingly white crowd—out of 6,000 people I was able to count African-Americans on one hand—that “nowhere has the pain been worse than in our inner cities.” Casting Clinton as an elitist divider—“the candidate of an arrogant ruling class in Washington”—Trump auditioned for the role of unifier: “I’m running to be the president of all Americans, to represent all Americans, and to liberate our poorest citizens from crime and poverty and violence.”
Was it credible? No more than his claim to have “put states in play that no Republican has ever come close to winning.” Massachusetts? The District of Columbia? Or has Trump consigned Nixon’s 1972 landslide to the memory hole?
There are few pursuits in politics as pointless as fact-checking Donald Trump. He lies so often, and so casually—as in last night’s claim that “vets are treated worse than illegal immigrants” or that Clinton “wants to increase refugees by 550 percent” (she’s actually just proposed increasing the number of refugees from Syria admitted to the US from 10,000 to 50,000, without saying anything about overall immigration)—that trying to hold him to the specifics on any proposal is a fool’s errand.
But last night, responding to Ford’s announcement yesterday morning that it would move all small-car production to Mexico, Trump also returned to a very specific proposal he’d floated during the primary campaign: a 35 percent tariff on all vehicles imported for sale in the United States.