Can Trump Stop Talking About Himself Long Enough to Go Negative on Clinton?

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Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Billings, Montana
It's unclear that the Sun King can deliberately take the focus off his magnificent self.Photo: Spencer Platt/2016 Getty Images

This may seem to be an odd critique of a politician who is a connoisseur of the well-wrought insult, but veteran political observer Stu Rothenberg wonders if Donald Trump is too narcissistic to go negative effectively. He makes a point worth pondering:

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[M]ost competitive presidential campaigns are about a single objective: making the race a referendum on the opponent, particularly if he or she is a long-time politician who has high negatives.

That’s how Barack Obama won a second term. He defined Mitt Romney and ran against that caricature he created (with Romney’s help, of course).

But whether it’s because he really doesn’t understand campaigns, or more likely, that his obvious narcissism makes it impossible for him to see that any topic could be more interesting than himself, Donald Trump continues to make the 2016 election a referendum on his accomplishments, his past statements and his beliefs.

That braggadocio may have worked in a crowded primary with weaker-than-anticipated opponents and a GOP grassroots that wanted red meat and a pure outsider with a flair for entertainment. But it is much less likely to work in a two-way sprint for the White House.

Failing to use the earned media a major-party nominee automatically receives to keep the focus on his opponent’s vulnerabilities certainly squanders some important opportunities. For one thing, Clinton’s negatives are the sole common ground for Republicans in this general election. For another, incumbent fatigue after two Democratic presidential terms is a significant asset for the GOP. Trump’s narcissism could help Democrats make the election a “two futures” choice in which the natural desire for change in a period of high “wrong-track” sentiment does not accrue to the GOP

Indeed, Trump is showing signs of missing cues to go after that other object of his party’s unifying hatred, Barack Obama, and to tie Clinton to his perceived failures. As Rothenberg points out, last weekend the mogul could have been exploiting the fears aroused by May’s deeply disappointing jobs report, instead of picking a self-destructive fight with the federal judge presiding over the time bomb of Trump U.

I don’t know of anyone in the thin ranks of his advisers who could go to Donald Trump and say, “Boss, you need to get over yourself!” But that may be the advice he needs to hear.