Rather than being over before it began, then, the election is at an extraordinarily volatile and uncertain point. Clinton has helped turn voters against Trump, but she hasn’t convinced them to support her. If Trump wishes to exploit this situation, he faces two tasks: First, he must convince voters that, as much as they dislike him, they ought to find Clinton at least as unpalatable. And second, he has to convince them that if they put him in the White House, they will not have bequeathed the nation’s highest office to an unstable madman with no self-control. He has to be cool, and he has to sustain it long enough to be convincing.
As many times as Trump has already failed to live up to that standard, those inside his orbit insist this new turn is for real. The dismissal of Lewandowski is seen as a crucial move, one that demonstrated that Trump is committed enough to the campaign’s mission to sacrifice a key enabler and confidant. So pervasive and toxic was Lewandowski’s influence that his departure unlocks enormous opportunities for the campaign, insiders say. And unlike past efforts to change Trump’s trajectory simply by putting new words in his mouth, his campaign is now actually engaged in a serious of major operational changes to address its profound deficiencies.
It will be a great irony if, just as the political establishment gave up hope that Trump could turn things around, he actually started to do it. Still, it will take far more evidence before Wednesday’s speech can be considered a genuine turning point for Trump’s faltering effort.