The Donald Trump show has been playing a back-to-back marathon all week, and to a great degree it has been to Hillary Clinton’s benefit. Negative headlines about her barely measured up to Trump’s string of unusual, if not bizarre, post-convention news.
Clinton started the week with a hefty flub Sunday when she told Fox News’s host Chris Wallace that FBI director James Comey had agreed that her answers about her emails were truthful. What Comey said was in fact: “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” That one moment earned her four Pinocchios from The Washington Post, and press secretary Brian Fallon spent the next few days cleaning up the mess on cable news.
News that broke late the week before about the economy growing at a sluggish 1.2 percent in the second quarter could have forced her to distance herself from President Obama’s economic policy – or at least face some tough questions this week – but it barely came up. And reports of $400 million in cash given to Iran could have raised some issues about her years of leadership as Secretary of State, even though the actual clandestine transfer took place well after she left office.
But all of that paled in comparison to the week Trump had and left the Democratic ticket of Clinton and Tim Kaine free to go about their business campaigning in swing states and building party unity in relative obscurity.
Instead, as so often has been the case in the 2016 campaign, the week has been all about Donald Trump — specifically his continuing, self-inflicted blunders and the Republican Party’s efforts to come to terms with its now official nominee. The Trump Train has looked a lot like a train wreck.
Trump’s troubles started with his reaction to the Democratic National Convention and, in typical Trump fashion, they began with a tweet.
Following the speech of Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala at the DNC convention, the Republican nominee took to social media to challenge the Gold Star parents, whose son, Army Captain Humayun Khan, died in the line of duty in Iraq.
Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same - Nice!
He also critiqued Ghazala on ABC News, saying she looked “like she had nothing to say.” Adding, “She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
Trump came under significant fire for the comments—most notably from his fellow Republicans.
Arizona Senator John McCain issued a statement Monday saying, “In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”
Never one to back down, on Tuesday Trump said he didn’t plan to endorse McCain in his very close Senate race this November, or for that matter, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, saying, “I’m just not quite there yet.”
Trump’s comments were a clear dig but also a call to war within his own party. Establishment members reacted swiftly.
By Tuesday afternoon New York Representative Richard Hanna, a Republican, announced he’d be voting for Hillary Clinton, calling Trump, “unfit to serve.” Then almost right on cue Republican mega-donor Meg Whitman said she was also backing Clinton, and would put money behind her support.
Trump continued to stick his foot in his mouth. He insinuated in an interview that sexual harassment victims should fix their own problems by quitting their jobs, he threw a baby out of his rally in Ashburn, Va., and he touted a Purple Heart that a veteran gave him at another rally in Jacksonville, Fla., saying, “Man, that’s, like, that’s, like, big stuff.’ I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
On Wednesday morning ABC News broke a story saying that senior RNC officials were actually considering a back-up plan if Trump were to drop out of the race, supposedly a “just in case” measure in response to the nominee’s erratic behavior.
That then turned the magnifying glasses inward. What is happening inside Trump Land?
Trump tweeted that all was well, saying Wednesday, “There is great unity in my campaign, perhaps greater than ever before.” And when asked, Trump campaign staffers offered the real-life equivalent of a shruggy emoji despite continued reports that high profile Republicans were plotting an intervention, and that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was nearly apoplectic.
Eventually Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort admitted a rift in an interview with ABC Thursday morning saying, “There’s a conflict within the Trump campaign” over the Republican presidential nominee’s hesitation to endorse Paul Ryan for re-election. Manafort had told Fox News the day before, “First of all, the candidate is in control of his campaign. That’s number one.”
Meanwhile, thanks to a strong post-DNC bump, Clinton is now significantly ahead of Trump in national polls. The most recent Fox poll placed her in the lead by 10 points. She’s also ahead in key battle ground states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada. Early Friday a new jobs report also showed a growth in employment numbers—255,000 new jobs in July while only an increase of 188,000 was expected.
The week has showcased a potential winning strategy for the Clinton-Kaine campaign – to stick with routine campaigning and let the Trump Train do its thing – which so often seems to be self-destruction.