The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump just totally wasted a critical six weeks of the general election campaign

Here are five GOP lawmakers who have taken issue with the ways their party's presidential candidate has reacted to the massacre in Orlando. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post, Photo: JONATHAN DRAKE/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Donald Trump effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination on May 3. That was 43 days ago.

Today, Trump is no closer to uniting the Republican Party or pivoting to the general election than he was six weeks ago. And that is, at a minimum, a massive waste of a critical time period and, at worst, a mistake that could severely jeopardize his chances of winning the White House in November.

Trump's time as the near-certain Republican nominee have been dominated by self-inflicted wounds — the most gaping of which is his suggestion that a federal judge overseeing a case involving Trump University was biased and should recuse himself because he is of Mexican heritage. Trump doubled down on that comment, then tripled down on it — even amid widespread outrage among Republicans already concerned that their nominee was dabbling (at least) in race-baiting. Eventually, Trump released a statement insisting that his comments about Gonzalo Curiel had been "misconstrued." He did not apologize for making the comment.

While the fight over Curiel has drawn the most attention, it's far from an isolated incident in the story of "Donald Trump, Republican nominee." A partial list:

* Trump's attack on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) during a trip to the state.

* His repeated use of the term "Pocahontas" to describe Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D).

* The decision to revoke the media credentials of The Washington Post — as well as at least seven other outlets.

* Reiterated his support — in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre — for a temporary ban on Muslims, a policy that has been decried by almost every wing of the GOP.

Like I said, that's a partial list. But even in its incompleteness, the impression the list leaves is of a totally undisciplined candidate oblivious to the fact that leading the headlines is not always a good thing.

Trump suggests the U.S. should help build safe zones in Syria for refugees. (Video: Reuters)

Know what else happened in the last six weeks? The State Department's inspector general released a report sharply critical of Hillary Clinton's decision to exclusively rely on a private email server for her electronic communication while serving as secretary of state. That is a terrible story for Clinton — and one that is a gift to Republicans working to portray her as an untrustworthy and unreliable person to lead the country.

The IG report came out on May 25. Two days later, Trump went on a 11-minute rant about Curiel to a crowd in San Diego. Suddenly, the IG report was out of the news, replaced by questions about whether or not Trump was a racist. That is, definitionally, campaign malpractice.

That's the most egregious example of Trump's mistakes over the last six weeks. But, time and again, Trump has stolen the spotlight — and not in a good way — rather than turning it on Clinton. Rather than talk about her email problems, her inability to close out the challenge from Bernie Sanders, the misgiving some within her party have about nominating her or almost any other Clinton-focused headline, Trump has instead talked incessantly about himself.

His inability to begin framing the election as a referendum on Clinton is born out in lots of polling. His negatives, as judged by new Washington Post-ABC News polling, are higher than they have ever been, with 7 in 10 Americans viewing him unfavorably.

Polling both nationally and in critical swing states also suggests that Trump now trails Clinton.

The election is in five months, you say? Plenty of time for Trump to make up ground and fix what ails his campaign! To that I say two things: 1) Trump has given no indication that there is a 2.0 version of him ready to be unveiled, and 2) It might already be too late.

On the second point, Trump was handed a unique opportunity over these last six weeks. Clinton was still mired in a primary fight with Sanders. Trump was totally free of any intraparty challengers. He had six weeks in which his opponent was decidedly distracted. He won't get that chance again. The Democratic primary season ended Tuesday night. President Obama and Vice President Biden have endorsed Clinton. Sanders seems to be moving to do the same.

Yes, modern campaigns last forever. But, they are almost always defined by a small group of critical moments that change the trajectory of races. The last six weeks was a major moment. Trump wasted it.