By Fighting the Last War, Trump Is Losing the New One
Policy + Politics

By Fighting the Last War, Trump Is Losing the New One

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

There are many reasons why a Republican politician might prefer not to appear on stage next month when the GOP is expected to nominate Donald Trump as its presidential candidate in November’s election. Some don’t want to be seen as endorsing a demagogue. Others worry that Trump is an opportunist whose policy positions shift in the wind.

Another good reason -- though one that generally goes unspoken -- is that nobody can be sure what will happen on that stage in Cleveland next month with Trump in charge, and in the event the Trump Train derails on live television and in front of the Party’s most dedicated supporters, the smart move is to be far, far away.

Related: Trump Moves to Seize the Day Amid Brexit Chaos

That’s probably why, when Politico contacted 50 prominent Republicans over the last week, reporters found only a handful who planned to speak or expressed openness to the idea. And on Monday, Trump obligingly provided an example of why they might feel uncomfortable signing on to appear as he takes control of the party by demonstrating that with the former reality television star you never know, even from hour to hour, what he will say or do.

On Monday morning, his likely Democratic rival for the Oval Office, Hillary Clinton, appeared on stage at a rally with frequent Trump critic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts. Warren has been gleefully taunting Trump at every opportunity, characterizing him as shallow, greedy, and callous. Her attacks have looked very much as though they were designed to provoke a reaction from the billionaire, and they have, with relative predictability, done just that.

Trump took to calling Warren “Pocahontas” on the stump, in reference to what he insists are false claims to have an American Indian ancestor. He calls her “goofy” and says she has been an ineffective legislator.

After Monday’s Clinton rally, however, it looked as though Team Trump had convinced its candidate to allow him to be reined in ever so slightly. The campaign responded to Warren’s attacks him with a prepared statement that was, by Trump standards, pretty sedate.

Related: As Trump Touts His Judgment, Some GOP Leaders Back Away

Calling Warren a “sellout” and a “turncoat,” Trump accused her of betraying the causes she has worked for, including increased income equality and more regulation of Wall Street by endorsing Clinton. It looked much more like a standard campaign attack than Trump’s usual broadsides, and included links to media accounts that it claimed prove Warren’s hypocrisy.

Notably, it avoided all mention of “Pocahontas” -- a name that has brought Trump under increased criticism from people already concerned that he is a racist or is, at minimum, pandering to angry white voters with his attacks on minorities.

In the brief interval after the statement was released, journalists speculated on social media if this was a sign that the Trump campaign had asserted some control over its candidate.

Related: House GOP Leaders and Trump Find Common Ground on New Tax Proposals

The speculation lasted until Trump did a phone interview with NBC News, in which he called Warren a racist and a fraud, and said that he uses the “Pocahontas” nickname “for a reason.”

Asked if he is making an effort to change his image, he said, “I do what I do. I've listened to this for a long time - at the beginning of the primaries, ‘He should do this, he should do that.’ I won in a landslide.”

But among Republicans there is an increasing concern that Trump is fighting the last war rather than recognizing that a general election campaign is vastly different from a Republican primary election.

Trump’s political problems are so grievous, that nearly two in three Americans believe the billionaire businessman and former reality TV host is not qualified to lead the nation and are highly anxious about the notion of him serving as commander in chief, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday.

Related: Clinton Assumes Role of Anti-Trump After Brexit Win

The nationwide poll – one of three released over the past few days spelling bad news for Trump – showed the bellicose Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by 12 percentage points, 51 percent to 39 percent. That was her biggest lead in Post-ABC News poll since last fall, and marked a substantial pick up for the former secretary of state since last month, when Trump held a slight lead, 46 percent to 44 percent.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday had a similar finding of a Clinton double-digit lead over Trump, 46.6 percent to 33.3 percent. Another 20 percent of the respondents said they probably wouldn’t support either candidate. The third poll, released Sunday by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, was more of an outlier, although it nonetheless showed Clinton slightly ahead of Trump.

That poll showed Clinton leading Trump by five percentage points, 46 percent to 41 percent. However, even this more modest lead virtually vanishes when the third party candidates are factored in. With Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein included in the list, Clinton’s lead over Trump shrinks to just one percentage point, according to the poll.

There is no apparent explanation for the discrepancy in the three polls, which were all conducted roughly the same time, between June 20 and 24, during a remarkably tumultuous period for the Republicans in which Trump troubled many in his own party with his controversial responses to the terrorist mass killings at a gay Orlando nightclub, his renewed call for barring Muslims from this country and the aftermath of his racist comments about a federal judge with a Mexican American heritage.

Related: Clinton Increases Her Lead Over Trump

Clinton, for sure, continues to generate widespread doubt and distrust among Democrats and Republicans alike, especially over her mishandling of her government email during four years as secretary of state. What’s more, she appears to be struggling against Trump in several battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, which will be crucial in the all-important battle for electoral votes in November.

However, 56 percent of the public says that Trump does not reflect their beliefs, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll. And 56 percent feel “strongly” that he is not qualified to sit in the Oval Office. Notably, nearly a third of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents feel strongly that Trump is not qualified to be president, while 18 percent of them say Trump does not reflect their beliefs.

Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) caused a stir when he refused during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program to say whether he thought Trump was qualified to be president. “I think there’s no question that he’s made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks,” he said.