This speech comes at a time when the Trump campaign is in some danger. The media narrative over the last few weeks--with talk of an undisciplined campaign, sinking poll numbers, and continued Republican attacks on Trump--poses risks for both Trump's hopes of winning in November and perhaps even his chances of seizing the nomination in Cleveland. Perhaps this speech will change that narrative.
One of the more striking aspects of this speech was Trump's pivot to the radical middle, voters who support entitlements and are skeptical of transnationalist globalism, who support free markets but also want a strong public safety net. The Republican coalition has relied on these voters for decades, and, as its hold on them has weakened in recent years, its electoral prospects have dimmed. One possible route for Republican back to an enduring presidential coalition is to fuse some populist concerns (especially on issues such as trade and immigration) with conservatism. By reconnecting with the "radical middle" and the working class, Republicans could strengthen their hands in numerous states, especially Rustbelt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. That's not the only path to get to a governing presidential coalition--but it is one way (and a route that might not demand compromising that many core conservative principles). Any Republican candidate can use such a strategy, and perhaps Ronald Reagan offered one iteration of that fusion.
Yesterday's speech invoked some of the themes of the radical middle. Trump reversed the Hillary-centric #ImWithHer with #ImWithYou. He argued that the trade and immigration policies promoted by both President Obama and Hillary Clinton will further undermine the American worker. Trump put economics at the heart of this address. When many Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the nation, he tried in this speech to identify Clinton with those who have charted national policy in recent years. (An interesting subtheme of Trump's speech yesterday was his efforts to claim a conservative--or at least Republican--pedigree for some of his policy positions. For instance, he quoted Abraham Lincoln on trade in order to justify Trump's skepticism of "free trade" deals.)
We'll see if this is just a one-off speech or part of a broader, disciplined strategy to pivot to a sustained pro-worker message. We'll also see whether this is enough to change the current trajectory of the campaign.
A few other things seem comparatively clearer: Continued struggles with the working class are a drag on Republican hopes of a national governing coalition. Reaching out to the working class will require more than self-aggrandizing media feuds or sneers at the struggling as losers who can't cut it. Confronting the real challenges of the day will require less ideological posturing and more empathy, imagination, and daring.