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analysis

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump may be losing his ability to shock, but he continues to polarize the U.S.Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press

In a major foreign-policy speech on Monday, the Republican nominee for president of the United States called for a values test for Muslims who wish to enter the country. Donald Trump suggested he would happily play nice with the world's worst despots, so long as they oppose radical Islam. He embellished his own past positions on foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq. And he yearned for the "old days," when victors of war could plunder the countries they invaded.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian anti-corruption investigation was reported to have found $12.7-million (U.S.) in cash payments from a pro-Russia political party designated for Mr. Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The current U.S. Vice-President, Joe Biden, suggested that the nominee himself "would have loved Stalin." And The Wall Street Journal's editorialists, usually among America's most influential conservative voices, called for him to either shape up as a candidate or ship out.

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It was, in other words, a pretty run-of-the-mill start to the week for Mr. Trump – a politician who, after gloating about predicting a terrorist attack, racially attacking a judge, getting into a public fight with the parents of a fallen war hero and whatever other bizarre episodes stand out in your head, is losing his capacity to shock.

That views of him are increasingly baked in – and that the circus around him has started just to become part of the landscape – is at once reassuring and highly alarming.

The most stunning thing Mr. Trump could have done with Monday's speech would have been to truly aim at broadening his appeal – at making himself more acceptable to those who consider him odious, at proving himself more "presidential" as he once promised to do after securing the nomination.

Maybe he thought he was doing that, a little, by reading a prepared text off a Teleprompter and walking back his threats to pull the U.S. out of NATO and slightly softening his call to outright restrict Muslims from entering the country. But the speech was, for the most part, an echo of his ominous address to last month's Republican convention, painting a dark image of a Western world under siege from frightening outside elements, especially immigrants and refugees. And his vision for his country's international role – essentially self-interest to the exclusion of almost any concern whatsoever for life inside others' borders – still sounded unlike anything offered by a serious presidential candidate in at least a half-century.

The reassuring part, if you're among those horrified by the idea of Mr. Trump in the White House, is that as the once-widespread speculation about him "pivoting" has proven laughable, his chances of winning have grown slimmer by the day.

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He very much still could win – if Hillary Clinton implodes somehow, or a terrorist attack or other security horror helps validate his worldview shortly before election day, or voters opposed to him become complacent and don't turn out. But as of now, with polls showing him trailing by roughly ten points nationally and in every battleground state, he appears entirely willing to cement the impressions of most everyone already against him.

The scary part, for anyone who cares about the nation to our south being a functional one, is that he also keeps cementing the views of Americans in his corner in a way no other nominee in memory has really done: by polarizing the country even further.

It was fitting that Monday's address was delivered in Youngstown, Ohio – a Rust Belt town that, while certainly deserving of attention for its economic challenges, is not usually considered a go-to place for foreign-policy discourse. It's places like this where Mr. Trump is able to sell the message to overwhelmingly white audiences disproportionately lacking college educations – a demographic that, while shrinking, still represents more than a third of the electorate – that their country is going to hell and elites are indifferent to it.

Everything that happened on Monday – Mr. Trump's latest defiance of "political correctness," the liberal media trying to take down his campaign manager, mainstream conservative media wagging fingers at him – will just make that sense of alienation more pronounced.

A different candidate might see that phenomenon and its dangers and, if the election starts to look unwinnable, try to rein it in – something John McCain famously did, in 2008, when unnerved by supporters' vitriol toward Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, seems inclined to keep stoking the divisions as things get grimmer for him. Already – beyond doubling down on his usual message – he has begun darkly speculating about the election being rigged against him and seemingly joking about violent post-election uprisings.

If he ramps that up before and immediately after election day, running the risk of some genuinely terrifying consequences, he will if nothing else reassert his ability to shock.

Until then, the drone of two echo chambers – one appalled by him, the other thrilled and defensive on his behalf – may just grow more numbing.