Here we are.
It has finally happened.
The Washington establishment and big media (with no small amount of help from the candidate himself) have finally ripped open a big fat hole in Donald Trump's previously rising balloon.
So, Trump is now not only the clear underdog in his race against Hillary Clinton but he's also so exposed and so vulnerable that Hillary & Co. are ready to go in for the kill. They're not of a mind to wait. They want to finish him off now. And they've got the organization and the bucks to carry out the deed.
What's Trump to do?
With a bit more than 90 days to go, how can he turn things around?
Dare we ask the question: Can he even hope to survive?
According to the old political hands who are supposed to know about these things, Trump has to take two steps:
1) He has to resist the temptation to be distracted by secondary matters and lesser disagreements -- grow a thick skin, don't be goaded, don't answer every sleight or criticism, and
2) He has to remain focused like a laser on Hillary, her failures, her foibles and the shameful record of the Obama years. That means relentless attacks focused on scandals, alleged crimes, the sluggish economy and a foreign policy without a purpose, a rudder or a single success.
It sounds easy enough, doesn't it?
Just pound away, day after day, and keep focusing on Clinton's lack of likability, her lies and the failed policies she has championed.
By this logic, Trump should be able to reclaim the lead within 30 days or less and that would give him plenty of time to coast to an easy victory in November, right? Wrong!
And here's why: A boring Trump is a losing Trump.
Trump's whole campaign -- his whole rasion d'etre -- is based on the surprising turn, the outrageous moment, the unexpected, the bombastic, the sensational.
This is what built the Trump movement. This is what attracted the tsunami of 14 million voters. This is what makes Trump a phenomenon and an appealing change agent precisely at a time when Americans seem to be in the mood for a big change.
So, here's the conundrum: Trump has to find a way to be controlled and spontaneous. He has to find a way to be diligent and disciplined while still retaining a bit of his "bad boy" image. It's sort of like the class clown winning the spelling bee while juggling spheres of fire. The fire attracts us, the spelling reassures us.
Can it be done?
Of course it can!
But Trump will have to craft a show that combines the determination and stamina of classic theater with a dash of vaudeville.
At every appearance, Trump must now hammer home his key points: America must start winning again; we must reverse our decline; we must secure our borders, put our country first and get America moving again; we cannot afford four or eight more years like the Obama years.
But, at the same time, Trump must also treat his audiences to surprises and what appear to be unscripted moments. And these moments will have to make news, in the best way possible -- not because he insulted somebody or acted like a buffoon but because he one-upped his opponent with something positive, something intelligent, something insightful. For example, what if Trump started selecting and announcing cabinet choices? There's no rule against him doing this and he can parcel out the announcements of three or four or even five key choices. What if Trump picked up some unexpected endorsements and found a clever or dramatic way to announce them? What if he was able to reveal something about Hillary that we haven't heard before -- something that really sheds light on her ability or preparedness to be president? If properly crafted, any one of a number of these turns could cease the moment. And these are just a few ideas.
One caveat here: At any time, events may turn the race dramatically in Trump's favor. There could be new revelations (via Wikileaks or elsewhere) about Hillary's e-mails or other hidden matters. An ongoing Hillary-related investigation (like one into the Clinton Foundation's activities) may break wide open. A serious terror attack or other international event or threat to our security may refocus the campaign. Trump must be prepared to make the most of such moments. But he cannot rely on any of these. He must begin to shift now.
Will Trump be able to shift gears while still being Trump?
Reagan was able to rise to the moment again and again but still be Reagan.
Reagan could pivot while retaining authenticity.
But this is Trump.
Can he do it? Absolutely.
Will he? That remains to be seen.