There’s plenty of time to make up ground, campaign chairman Paul Manafort says.
After a rocky week, Donald Trump’s team projected confidence Thursday, with Trump, his running mate, his staff and his surrogates all sending the same message: The campaign is moving in the right direction — and it’s Hillary Clinton who’s in trouble.
Ben Carson and other surrogates are working to put Trump’s feud with a Gold Star family in the campaign’s rear-view mirror. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is working to mend frayed fences with fellow Republicans after Trump offered a surprise non-endorsement to Paul Ryan ahead of his Tuesday primary. And Trump himself on Wednesday aimed to squash reports of campaign strife with assertions that the campaign is more unified than it has ever been.
Top Trump advisers and aides vowed that the candidate would pivot to more substantial issues like Clinton’s role in the Iranian nuclear deal, and the candidate himself acknowledged as much to a Florida TV station.
But while Trump’s team asserted they were moving in the right direction, a slew of polls — normally one of the GOP nominee’s favorite talking points — suggested otherwise.
Polls in Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania — battleground states Trump needs to win to have any chance at winning in November — showed him trailing Clinton substantial margins. Coupled with a national Fox News poll taken in the days following Clinton’s official nomination at the Democratic National Convention last week, the numbers suggested big trouble.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll released on Thursday puts Clinton 15 points ahead of Trump nationally, 48 percent to 33 percent. That’s a surge from last month’s edition of the survey, in which Clinton led Trump by only 3 points.
Trump foreshadowed the latest wave of dismal polling on Tuesday, when a CNN/ORC poll taken after the DNC showed him trailing by 7 points. “I think these polls — I don’t know — there’s something about these polls, there’s something phony,” Trump said. A day before, Trump similarly expressed a fear that the general election “is going to be rigged.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s opponents continue to pile on. President Barack Obama on Thursday repeatedly took Trump to task in a press conference. The president suggested it was “ridiculous” for Trump to speak of rigged elections, suggested Trump was unfit to be in charged of nuclear weapons and even said that if Trump wanted access to classified briefings, he needed to start “acting like a president.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, suggested Clinton could win both Arizona and Georgia.
Trump’s problems don’t stop at the numbers. A number of high-profile Republicans have in recent days withdrawn their support from Trump or, like retiring New York Rep. Richard Hanna, defected entirely to Clinton. And even in the face of intraparty tension over his refusal to support House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary election, Trump showed no remorse.
“I was, you know, very forthright when I said, when I made certain statements,” Trump told Florida CBS affiliate WPEC on Wednesday, in discussing his snubs of Ryan and Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. “And you know, I’m happy with them. We’ll see what happens. I think we’re going to do very well.”
Trump’s plan to refocus on Clinton seemed to go into action in part Thursday when he criticized Clinton over a report of money transferred to Iran under the supervision of the Obama administration, but Trump again put himself into the center of the story by claiming that he had seen a video of the cash exchange — a claim that has been widely debunked.
But even with wilting poll numbers and widespread GOP concern about the man the party nominated less than two weeks ago, there’s plenty of time to make up ground, campaign Chairman Paul Manafort insisted in two television interviews Thursday morning.
“Usually campaigns don’t even start until September. We’re using August as a very aggressive month, however,” Manafort remarked on “CBS This Morning.” He cited the large crowd Trump had drawn in Florida the night before — even though the candidate himself had mused during that same Jacksonville rally: “I don’t know why we’re not leading by a lot. Maybe crowds don’t make the difference.” And he boasted about the campaign’s announcement of 50 state directors — “everybody’s deployed and working” — and, he said, it’s impressive, though not quite as impressive as the “record” fundraising haul of $80 million in July. “So, no, we’re feeling comfortable,” he concluded.
And the campaign is working to refocus scrutiny on Clinton, especially with an emphasis on her role in orchestrating the beginnings of the nuclear deal with Iran after it was reported this week that the United States secretly delivered $400 million to the Iranian government on the same day four American prisoners were released.
Pence peppered his address Thursday morning with multiple shots at Clinton and President Barack Obama, making note of the money sent to the Iranian government on the day of the prisoner release. Clinton and Obama, he declared at a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, “essentially put a price tag on every American” who goes abroad.
Manafort told CBS that he rejects the media narrative that Democrats are currently in command of the 2016 race — though he acknowledged being surprised by the onslaught of negative polls.
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