Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. 
Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

At his 2020 kickoff, Trump remained stuck in the past

Shortly after Donald Trump wrapped up his re-election campaign launch in Orlando last night, one of his admirers in conservative media declared, “He absolutely blistered Hillary Clinton.”

There’s some truth to that. The president seemed oddly preoccupied with the former secretary of State, and I have little doubt that Trump’s aggressive attacks against Clinton will undermine her chances of winning the 2020 election.

If she were running, the strategy might even make sense.

Trump had a unique opportunity last night to frame the next presidential race in a way that suited his purposes. He could’ve put a positive spin on his record; he could’ve presented a forward-thinking vision for the next four years; and could’ve set the parameters for the dominant issues and themes of the 2020 cycle.

But as Dana Milbank noted, Trump instead remained “perpetually stuck in 2016.”

At his campaign kickoff in Orlando on Tuesday, Trump alleged that “Crooked Hillary Clinton” funded “the phony dossier.” He accused her of an “illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign.”

On and on Trump went, about “Crooked Hillary” and her “insurance policy,” falsely stating that she refused to concede the election and alleging that she “destroyed evidence, deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine.”

Inferring that Bill Barr may try to prosecute his former rival, the president added, “Let’s see what happens. We now have a great attorney general. Let’s see what happens.” (NBC News’ Monica Alba noted around this time, “By my count, President Trump has mentioned Hillary Clinton (at least) 7 times tonight in the span of about 30 minutes. Seven!”)

The fact that the accusations were factually wrong made this annoying, but the Republican’s focus on a Democrat who left public office seven years ago, and who’ll never again run in an election, made this bizarre.

Referring to Republicans, Hillary Clinton joked in 2017, “It appears they don’t know I’m not president.” Two years later, it appears Trump doesn’t know she’s not a candidate, either.

Given the spotlight, and presented with a national platform, Trump seemed unable to look ahead. The president enjoyed the 2016 race so much, he apparently wants to stay there indefinitely.

At one point last night, he said of his re-election campaign staff, “They cost a fortune and they never give me any ideas.”

Given what we heard from Trump in Orlando, that’s very easy to believe, though it’s hard not to wonder who’s really to blame: the aides who don’t give him new ideas, or the president who’s only interested in old ones.

Postscript: True to form, Trump’s speech was littered with brazen falsehoods about matters large and small. The New York Times, Associated Press, and Washington Post ran good fact-checking pieces.