WASHINGTON --- Let's start here: Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed presidential candidate. Roughly 6 in 10 Americans don't think she is honest and trustworthy. She struggles to connect on the campaign trail. She is, by her own acknowledgement, not a "natural" candidate. She is deeply polarizing.
For all of those reasons, Republicans at the start of this election cycle could barely contain their glee at the chance to run against Clinton. Elections are fundamentally about the future, and Clinton was a figure from the past, they argued. And not only that! Clinton was also one of the most known and judged people in American culture. Run a campaign entirely focused on reminding voters what they didn't or don't like about the Clintons. Win. It was as simple as that, many Republicans believed.
Enter Donald Trump. If the Clinton forces could have handpicked a Republican candidate to run against this fall, it would almost certainly have been Trump. He's even MORE high-profile than she is. He's even MORE controversial than she is. He's even MORE prone to dominate media coverage than she is.
None of those things are good for Republicans. If the recipe to winning the White House in November is to turn the race into a referendum on Clinton, Trump is the exact worse choice to do that. Take the race to date as evidence.
Trump has, without question, overshadowed Clinton (and every other candidate) for the nine months he has been an official candidate. Yes, when Clinton's email problems bubble up, they get covered. And, yes, when Bernie Sanders beat Clinton in Michigan or she swept all five states on March 15, that got covered, too. But, generally, the story each and every day is TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP.
Trump promises that if he is the nominee, he will act differently than he has in the course of winning the nomination -- more "presidential." But the defining quality of Trump's time in public life, which spans decades, is a knack for attracting -- and a love of -- the spotlight. He is someone who lives his entire life in public -- and likes it that way. He takes pride in his ability to get attention. He regularly touts how he hasn't had to spend as much of his own money as he thought he might have to in this campaign because he's gotten so much free media attention.
All of that has been great for him in a primary context. He has sucked the oxygen out of the GOP field, strangling the likes of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie in the process. But a primary against 16 other candidates is not the same thing as a one-on-one general-election race against Hillary Clinton. Trump's ability to draw attention to himself -- largely via a willingness to say and do things other politicians won't -- works far less well in the latter race than it does in the former.
The less the general election focuses on Clinton, the better for Clinton and Democrats. It's as simple as that. There are very few people in the political arena who could possibly knock Clinton down to second billing. Trump is one of them. And not in a good way, if you are a Republican with an eye on reclaiming the White House.
• 03/87/16: A radical proposal for how Republicans could try to stop Donald Trump
• 03/17/16: Trump haters had a very bad night on Tuesday
• 03/14/16: I was really impressed with something Donald Trump did in Thursday's debate: Discipline
• 03/11/16: Winners and losers from the 12th Republican presidential debate
• 03/07/16: Here's how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz should have answered the 'will you support Trump' question
• 03/04/16: Winners and losers from the 11th Republican presidential debate
• 03/03/16: The Republican establishment waited too long to stop Donald Trump. Now they probably can't
• 03/02/16: Winners and losers from Super Tuesday
• 02/29/16: Why Donald Trump is remarkably dangerous to the Republican Party
• 02/29/16: 4 reasons why Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump
• 02/26/16: Winners and losers from the 10th Republican presidential debate
• 02/24/16: Donald Trump is on course to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the GOP nominee
• 02/23/16: This Donald Trump explanation of his Iraq position is just so mind-boggling
• 02/22/16: Jeb Bush never really had a chance in the 2016 presidential race
• 02/18/16: Senate Republicans will never hold a Supreme Court vote this year. This poll shows why
• 02/17/16: South Carolina isn't Bush Country anymore
• 02/12/16: Winners and losers from the 6th Dem debate
• 02/10/16: Winners and losers from the New Hampshire primary
• 02/06/16: Winners and losers from the fifth Democratic presidential debate
• 01/29/16: Winners and losers from the 7th Republican presidential debate
• 01/27/16: Ranking the Republican 2016 field
• 01/25/16: Trump is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. Period
• 01/22/16: Who had the worst week in Washington? Hillary Clinton
• 01/18/16: Feeling bad for Jeb Bush
• 01/15/16: Winners and losers from the sixth Republican presidential debate
• 01/12/16: Here's exactly how Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton
• 01/11/16:The fantasy scenario that could become reality for Hillary
• 12/30/15: The five big lessons from a weirdly watchable year of politics
• 12/21/15: Winners and losers in the third Democratic presidential debate
• 12/16/15: Winners and losers from the 5th Republican presidential debate
• 12/16/15: Cruz, not Trump, looking like GOP favorite for 2016
• 12/04/15: Ted Cruz is the sleeping giant in the Republican race
• 11/24/15:Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign
• 11/23/15: A ranking of GOP presidential candidates who can still make a case --- and the nominee
• 11/16/15: The remarkably unappealing anger of Donald Trump
• 11/11/15: Winners and losers from the fourth Republican debate
• 11/02/15: Jeb Bush says he still doesn't get why his terrible debate performance matters so much
• 10/29/15: Winners and losers from the third Republican presidential debate
• 10/22/15: Paul Ryan might be saving his party. But at what cost?
• 10/20/15: Six things we know Joe Biden is thinking
• 10/19/15: Who had the worst week in Washington? Lincoln Chafee
• 10/14/15: Winners and losers from the first Dem presidential debate