Reeling from a Week in Hell, Trump Forces Try to Push Back
Election 2016

Reeling from a Week in Hell, Trump Forces Try to Push Back

Rick Wilking

After a week from hell in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suffered major GOP defections and saw his standing in the polls plummet as he wildly lashed out against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama, Trump forces engaged in damage control on Sunday to try to staunch the hemorrhaging.

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort disputed reports that the campaign was in disarray and, like Trump in a tweet this morning, blamed the news media for distorting Trump’s statements last week.

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Trump seemingly called on Second Amendment gun rights advocates to threaten the life of Clinton if she wins the election and tries to nominate liberal justices to the Supreme Court. He also accused Clinton and Obama of being the “co-founders” of the terror group ISIS, dumbfounding Republicans and Democrats.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Trump is unwilling and perhaps incapable of softening his hard-edged, racially divisive image, and that he can’t pivot from his primary victories to a general election campaign strategy. Instead, the newspaper reported, he has grown “only more volatile and prone to provocation,” including his recent attacks on a Gold Star family whose son was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber.

"The campaign is moving forward and is very strong," Manafort insisted on CNN's State of the Union. Trump is very plugged in and he's very connected. ... The media chose to take [the] Clinton campaign narrative and go on the attack on Donald Trump." 

Not all Republicans see it that way. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine last week became the seventh Senate Republican to break with Trump over his combative anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. She said today on the CBS News Face the Nation that after Trump clashed with the family of the fallen military hero that she concluded Trump wasn’t interested in making a much-needed political course correction.

Related: Is Trump Trying to Game the Presidential Debates?

Clinton currently holds a 6.8 percentage-point lead over Trump in Real Clear Politics cumulative national polling average, with some polls showing her with as much as a 10-point advantage. A new CBS News Battle Ground Tracker released today shows Clinton extending her lead over Trump in the crucial state of Florida and is now up by five points, 45 percent to 40 percent.

Trump appeared to get back on script last Monday when he delivered a major economic speech to the Detroit Economic Club. He contrasted his tax cut proposals with Clinton’s plans for new taxes and spending programs. But the week’s media coverage was dominated by his comments the following day in which he appeared to be encouraging second amendment supporters to threaten the life of Clinton or liberal members of the Supreme Court. Trump later said the media had misconstrued his “sarcasm,” although he said in the same breath that perhaps he wasn’t being sarcastic.

"The point is, most people did not take it that way,” Manafort said today. “It was not at all meant to be a threat," he said.  “You could have been covering what he was saying or you could take the Clinton narrative and play it out, and you chose to do that instead," he said.

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During an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday that was taped on Friday in Indiana, Pence, the governor, gamely defended Trump as a politician like former President Ronald Reagan who shook up the political establishment by speaking his mind, even when many  policy experts at the time warned that his policies were highly risky. He said that Trump would begin to show more of his leadership skills beginning on Monday when he delivers a major national security policy address and discusses his plans for defeating ISIS.

Pence also said that Trump’s campaign would continue to make the case that Clinton showed favoritism to contributors to the Clinton Family Foundation during her tenure as secretary of state and that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, fostered a “pay to play” environment in the government. Some of Clinton’s emails released on Tuesday raised new suspicions that the foundation staff sought favors from the State Department on behalf of major donors – an allegation that Clinton has repeatedly denied in the past.

On Trump’s ISIS comment, Pence replied, “I think he was very serious and was making a point that needs to be made -- that there is no question that the failed policies of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the wider Middle East created a vacuum within Iraq in which ISIS was able to rise.”

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“There’s simply no question about that,” Pence added.

Trump, the once high-flying political newcomer who blew away 16 rivals during the Republican presidential primaries, has been on a fast slide since the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in mid-July.

“Donald Trump made his way through a very competitive primary because he spoke not like your typical politician but just plainly like an every-day American,” Pence said. “And speaking plainly is exactly what the American people will anticipate in the course of this election. But more importantly, they’re going to have a president who tells them exactly what’s on his mind and the American people are going to hear him and hear him loud and clear.”