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The Donald does policy

Donald Trump tries to be a grown-up for a change.

Having thoroughly intimidated the rest of the Republican Party's 2016 presidential field and won a goodly number of its voters' hearts with his tough-guy persona, Donald Trump has decided to tackle their minds.

He has rolled out a plan for economic growth that professes to offer his vision of nirvana while lining the pockets of everyone from the man on Main Street to his fellow wheeler-dealers on Wall Street and in real estate.

Who will be able to resist a scheme that would eliminate all income taxes for individuals making under $25,000 a year and couples bringing in under $50,000? Or dropping the highest marginal rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, as well as wiping out the estate tax?

Some critics are already saying the Trump package would turn Jeb Bush's similar proposal into a "lite" version by comparison, with benefits not only for the middle class but also for wealthy Americans like himself. The question now is whether one of America's most celebrated hucksters can sell his economic schemes and withstand the barrage of fact-checking already underway by sleuths examining the small print.

Before Mr. Trump released his economic plans, which are largely marked by generalities peppered with his usual self-cheerleading, there were signs of slippage in his support in the public opinion polls, even as he continued his gratuitous personal attacks against his rivals for the GOP nomination.

Some of those targets are still struggling to survive his verbal insults and derision. Already dispatched from the race have been former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. In the second debate, Mr. Trump opened with a personal assault on the looks of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, followed by the same against former business executive Carly Fiorina.

Mr. Trump's pivot the other day to at least the appearance of running a campaign of substance may convince some of the faithful that, having seized center stage with his bull-in-the-china-shop antics, he is moving on to make the case for a serious candidacy.

An awful lot of skeptics, however, will be lining up to challenge his extravagant claims of working economic miracles as a cross between the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a common variety country snake-oil salesman.

There is little reason to expect, either, that Mr. Trump will suddenly turn into Mr. Nice Guy, willing to tone down his bumptious style for high-blown, esoteric discussions of political theory.

His latest formula of something-for-everybody coupled with old supply-side economics seems a variation of what candidate George H.W. Bush termed "voodoo economics" in 1980 — more for the military along with deep tax cuts, somehow without sending the national deficit soaring. Mr. Bush's use of that label infuriated Ronald Reagan but didn't prevent his landing the job as The Gipper's running mate. But getting Mr. Trump nominated may be a stretch.

On foreign policy, Mr. Trump has yet to offer much credibility as an enforcer who will wipe out the brutal toughs of the Islamic State and simultaneously demonstrate diplomatic talents to cajole the fearsome Russian bear, Vladimir Putin, from restoring the old Soviet empire.

In the third Republican candidates' debate, to be held in late October in Boulder, Colo., Mr. Trump can expect to face more questions about his economic and other proposals, as well as more pointed hostility from the press inquisitors he tried to feed on in the first two televised encounters.

That is the inevitable price of finally coming forth with policy as well as bombast as part of his political arsenal, as he presents himself as a man of ideas seeking to break the nation out of indecision and paralysis. It's a welcome development in a presidential campaign that thus far has consisted of thunder and lightning, signifying very little.

It remains to be seen now whether Mr. Trump's brief venture into what appears to be adult discussion of economic and tax issues will generate adult examination of the sort of that can produce a worthy leader out of what so far has been a demeaning circus.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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