When Donald Trump initially went after Judge Gonzalo Curiel with racially charged criticisms, he created a controversy -- which he immediately made worse by re-emphasizing the same points, over and over again, in subsequent days. The Republican candidate was convinced there was nothing wrong with what he was saying, so he had no qualms about sticking to his offensive line.
We saw those same instincts on display last night in Ohio. NBC News reported:
Less than an hour after Attorney General Lynch recommended no charges against Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump spoke at length about almost everything else. What began as a point-by-point take down of the inconsistencies in the former secretary of state's statements about her server versus what was found by the FBI quickly devolved into a loop-the-loop of tangents, grievances and alternative headlines.
Trump wanted to talk about the anti-Semitic image in his recent tweet, and his belief that his campaign shouldn't have deleted his original message. Trump wanted to talk about the parts of Saddam Hussein's record he agrees with. Trump wanted to talk about how much he likes the Brexit policy he knows little about.
Trump wanted to accuse his critics of "racial profiling," a phrase the GOP candidate likes to use, though it's not clear he knows what it means. Trump wanted to list the various Jewish people he knows personally.
The Washington Post added this gem of a sentence: "At one point he also swatted at a mosquito, then pretended the bug was Clinton and spoke to it."
The Atlantic's James Fallows, watching this spectacle unfold, wrote, "It would be rash ever to declare Peak Trump. But really, there is something wrong with this man." MSNBC's Chris Hayes added, "I've been watching these now for 13 months ... and that was the most unhinged thing that I've seen from him. It was all over the place. It was like Charlie Sheen during his 'Winning' tour."
And then it got worse.
After the event, Trump took on the role of an online troll, publishing an image from Disney with a six-pointed star, demanding to know why the media isn't outraged by this.
This probably shouldn't be necessary, but The New Republic's Jeet Heer explained, "What Trump fails to realize is that the original tweet was offensive because of the context: The star was placed over money in a message about political corruption, playing to old anti-Semitic tropes about wealthy Jews controlling the political process. (It doesn't help that the image came from an anti-Semitic message board.) None of that, of course, applies to Frozen."
I've seen some suggestions that Trump's bizarre rhetoric is pushing Hillary Clinton's email story out of the spotlight. I'm not convinced that's true -- the media's intense interest in Clinton's server protocols is simply too strong, and congressional Republicans remain heavily invested in the matter, even if their party's presumptive presidential nominee isn't.
But the broader point is nevertheless unmistakable: Trump's sole job yesterday was to stick to the Republican script and help generate a few anti-Clinton headlines. The fact remains, however, that the guy just can't help himself. Trump thinks he's right, gosh darn it, about the star of David, about Brexit, about the brutal dictators whose policies on due process he finds admirable, and he's going to talk about these beliefs, whether it makes sense or not.
NBC News' First Read team added this morning, "Trump can't stay on message, and that's a problem."