Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
New campaign finance reports show that Donald Trump has less than $1.3 million in the bank heading into June. He is trailing Hillary Clinton by more than $41 million. Trump’s staff of 70 people also pales in comparison to Clinton’s nearly 700 campaign employees. Top Republicans are alarmed and wonder how Trump will win swing states in the November election. In response, the presumptive nominee said he would rely on his personal fortune. Trump is expected to respond further to concerns about his campaign in a speech later this morning. Guest host Tom Gjelten and a panel of guests take a look at the state of Donald Trump’s campaign.
- Josh Kraushaar Political editor, National Journal
- Matea Gold Reporter covering money and politics, The Washington Post
- Byron York Chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner
- Mercedes Schlapp Republican strategist and columnist for the Washington Times; co-founder and principal, Cove Strategies, a governmental and public affairs firm based in Alexandria, Virginia; contributor, Fox News; former media liaison, President George W. Bush Administration
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Donald Trump is entering the general election campaign with one of the greatest financial disadvantage of any party nominee in recent history and hundreds of GOP delegates are organizing to block a Trump nomination at the Republican convention.
MR. TOM GJELTENWith me in the studio to talk about the challenges facing the Trump campaign, Matea Gold of The Washington Post, Byron York with The Washington Examiner, Mercedes Schlapp, a Republican strategist and columnist for The Washington Times and Josh Kraushaar with The National Journal. Hello to all of you. Thanks for coming in.
MS. MATEA GOLDGood morning.
MR. BYRON YORKGood to be here.
MS. MERCEDES SCHLAPPGlad to be here.
MR. JOSH KRAUSHAARHello.
GJELTENAnd a little later in the hour, we're going to open the phone lines and broaden the conversation. You can join us with your own questions and comments, 1-800-433-8850 is our number. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can get in touch with us via social media or through our website, drshow.org. Byron, I want to start with you. I'm looking at an article on the front page of The Washington Post yesterday describing the Trump campaign as floundering, besieged by organizational turmoil, strategic mishaps and an erratic message. We need you to be the objective reporter here. Is it really that bad or are we overstating Trump's problems?
YORKWell, it's pretty bad. There's no doubt about it because up to this point, Trump does not have a general election campaign in the sense that we have thought of campaigns. He didn't have a rapid response outfit. He just started doing that yesterday. He really doesn't have a communications shop. We know his fundraising troubles, the FEC filings for the month of May came out that he had, you know, $1.3 million, which is like less than the average price of an apartment in New York City.
YORKSo this has scared Republicans terribly. Now, Trump has always said he was going to run a completely different campaign after the FEC report came out. He said, look, I can write myself a check any time, cash on hand is what I have. He never says how much he has, but presumably he could write a check. So I think what you have to separate is what are the -- what are the deficiencies in this campaign that will really damage him terribly? And what are the sort of conventional expectations that everyone has that maybe are not as well grounded?
YORKI don't know how -- exactly how to do that, but in conventional terms, he's in bad shape right now.
GJELTENWell, let's try to -- that's what we're going to try and do today is separate some of these issues out. Let's try and take them sort of one by one. Matea, fill us in on this fundraising deficit that Byron just mentioned. Now, last night, Donald Trump had a fundraising dinner in New York City, correct?
GJELTENDo you know anything about...
GOLDAnd sources told me it was going to bring in around $6 million and they believe that the joint fundraising efforts with the Republican National Committee could bring in as much as $20 million for the month of June. What I think is so startling and alarming to so many Republicans watching this is that the figures that came out on Monday night sort of were this exclamation point at the end of this very bad day for Trump.
GOLDHe fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. There was this intense focus on sort of the mechanics of the campaign, who's running things. And then, late Monday night, we get word that there's this very meager cash flow into his campaign coffers. Now, to be fair, to put it into context, you know, we have -- he has been writing large checks in past months, loans I should say, into his campaign and he claims he can write another one.
GOLDI do think it's telling that the check that he wrote in May was the smallest one to date and it's at the time when he really established himself as the presumptive Republican nominee and theoretically, they would be staffing up and pivoting towards the general election. So it does raise questions about why that didn't happen more quickly. But I think more broadly, the problem is is that the entire Republican ticket is counting on him to help bring in large sums of money with the party in order to finance a national Get Out The Vote operation.
GOLDThat's something that the party's charged with doing and they need his help.
GJELTENWell, Mercedes, Matea just said that he needs to bring in a lot of money with the party. What is the problem? What problem is there with him raising money himself? How much of a problem for the party is it if he funds his own campaign?
SCHLAPPWell, I think Trump needs to fund his own campaign. I think Trump is viewing his campaign a bit like a business model and not realizing that yes, you want maybe a leaner and more effective campaign, but campaigns are about spending money and lots of it. We know campaigns -- in 2012, it was -- Romney spend $1 billion, Obama spend $1 billion. At this point, Romney had over $112 million in the bank compared to Donald Trump. It really is something where I think Donald Trump needs to shift his focus.
SCHLAPPThat's why you have President George W. Bush coming out and actually doing fundraising for those candidates, those Senate candidates in swing states. They're using the Bush family for that, for example, on the Senate side. I think for Donald Trump, his focus needs to be more internal and saying, I've got to beef up my campaign, more staff because what I'm running against is a well-oiled Clinton machinery who is -- has raised millions of dollars. The superPACs are ready to go with negative ads and Donald Trump is behind, is far behind.
GJELTENNow, one of the things that we have -- we saw during the primary campaign is that -- and this is a point that Donald Trump makes over and over again, that he was vastly outspent and yet he came in way ahead. But in the general election campaign, money is a lot more important, isn't it?
SCHLAPPOh, absolutely. I think -- remember, in the primary, you had Jeb Bush attacking Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio attacking Ted Cruz. There were so many different dynamics. Here, in the general election, we're down to these two candidates and Hillary Clinton is razor focused on painting Donald Trump in a negative picture. And although he's depending -- Donald Trump is depending on the free press coverage, he's got to really broaden his base and that includes defining Hillary Clinton in a negative light, as well as hoping to port women voters, minority voters beyond just the white working class males that has been his base so far.
GJELTENWell, Josh, I sure don't want to overstate Trump's problems. I mean, we saw new polls this week that show him essentially tied with Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states that Hillary Clinton would certainly need to win this year. On the other hand, how important is infrastructure, ground operations, money when you have deadlocked states like that?
KRAUSHAARIt's very important. In fact, Hillary Clinton is raising up to a billion dollars to focus on maybe five to ten percent of the electorate that is the undecided portion of the electorate that keeps on shrinking. I mean, the political reality is Donald Trump has a floor and he has a pretty hard ceiling as well. So when you look at those Pennsylvania and Ohio numbers that the Republicans are sort of looking at optimistically, the reality is, Donald Trump was still just at 40 percent in both of those polls.
KRAUSHAARHe's got the 40 percent of the Republican base. I mean, one of the bigger surprises, frankly, is that so many Republicans, after he clinched the nomination, rallied to him and gave him that floor of support that never looked possible during the primary. But the reality is getting that final five to ten percent to get a plurality or a majority of the vote is exceedingly difficult and that's what the organization is for. That's what the money is for. That's what the infrastructure is all about. And he's not only shown challenges and struggles dealing with that portion of the campaign, but I don't think he really understands how it's important and how it actually wins over the votes he needs.
GJELTENRight. Byron, in your own reporting, do you see the Republican leadership, the Republican party leadership alarmed at the thought of losing the general election, the presidential election in November or are they even more alarmed by the prospect of losses down the ballot and are they separating those two challenges?
YORKOh, yeah. I think -- I mean, look. You're talking about members of the house and the Senate. They're more concerned about the House and the Senate.
YORKThey would love to have the White House. I think a number of them think that's probably not possible. So they're terribly worried about that. Now, I will say that all of this talk about process and all of this talk about money, absent Trump's remarks on the judge in the Trump University case, Judge Curiel, absent his poorly received reaction to Orlando, we -- they're probably wouldn't be this sense of kind of hysteria of everything's a total disaster. So Trump needs to fix several things and put aside, if you can, for a moment, all of these structural things.
YORKHe needs to stop making really big mistakes like attacking Ted Cruz's wife, which he did in the week of the Wisconsin primary, which he lost, like attacking the judge in the Trump University case, which came out of nowhere. And Trump has this tendency to make -- in golf, they call it the big miss, you know. You can hit a drive down the fairway a little bit into the rough. It's not a huge problem. What you want to avoid is slicing it over the trees and into the parking lot, that's what Trump does occasionally.
YORKAnd that's what Paul Manafort and others are trying to get him to do. The pivot doesn't mean he stops saying crooked Hillary or he turns into some sort of statesman. It's that he stops making huge mistakes.
GJELTENYou're nodding your head, Mercedes.
SCHLAPPOh, absolutely. Byron is correct. I think that we -- it was interesting, Matea, you mentioned that with Donald Trump having a bad week, and it's the sense that his campaign manager left, but it's actually a relief for many Republicans that Corey's gone.
YORKThat could be a big improvement.
SCHLAPPBecause -- I agree. It's a sense of let Trump be Trump. Well, no, we need to let Trump become presidential and I think that's he's going to be, obviously, true to himself. He's not going to change, but you are going to see a more scripted Trump, a more policy-driven Trump. At the same time, he's going to focus on Hillary Clinton and talk about her failed record as secretary of state, talk about how she's bad for trade and immigration. So I think that that is what Republicans are looking for.
SCHLAPPThey are -- they might be looking for the pivot, but I agree, it is avoiding the big mistakes. And I think we have to remember that Trump is a political novice. He hasn't done this for 25, 35 years like a Hillary Clinton, which is so scripted. And he is going to make mistakes. But what Republicans are looking for is a sense security, which is where I think we have this big concern.
GJELTENWell, Mercedes, you said quite definitively we're going to see a new Donald Trump. Of course, in the past, he's...
SCHLAPPWe've said that plenty of times.
GJELTEN...we've said that before and it hasn't happened. Mercedes Schlapp is a Republican strategist. She's also a columnist for The Washington Times. We're going to take a break here and when we come back, we're going to continue to go inside the Trump campaign and analyze all the challenges that he's facing and figure out what might change that situation going forward. I'm Tom Gjelten. Stay tuned.
GJELTENHello again, I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today, and we're discussing the state of the Trump campaign with a top-notch panel here in the studio with me. Josh Kraushaar is the political editor of National Journal, sorry, Josh, Matea Gold, a reporter covering money and politics for The Washington Post, Byron York, the chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner, and Mercedes Schlapp, she is a Republican strategist and co-founder and principal of Cove Strategies, which is a firm based in Virginia. She is also is a former media liaison for the George W. Bush administration.
GJELTENMatea Gold, you talked to Ed Rollins for this -- for a story that you wrote this week, and he was pretty -- pretty critical around these same issues that we've been talking about. He says that Trump is now looking into the abyss, this is what he told you. Big donors just don't want to give money unless they have the opportunity to talk to the candidates, hear what your positions are. There's just been a failure from start to finish on the fundraising side. Put that criticism from Ed Rollins in context. What role or where does he fit in with the Trump campaign, and how serious is his view here, as an insider, in a sense?
GOLDSo Rollins' comments, which were actually made to my colleague Philip Rucker, I think are incredibly telling because when you have someone who is leading an allied, outside super-PAC making such a critical, damaging assessment of the state of your campaign, it's never a good sign. The situation with the super-PACs is sort of emblematic of sort of the confusion and chaos around all of the mechanics of Trump's campaign.
GOLDThey have yet to really officially sanction or give a green light to a certain vehicle to tell donors this is an entity that we really feel that we trust that you should give your money to. That's something Hillary Clinton has done, Priorities USA Action is the main super-PAC among a network of groups supporting her, and they have raised more money than ever before, are already on the air with a $20 million television buy leading up to the convention.
GOLDThe situation on the Trump side is very different. There's at least five rival super-PACs jockeying for the support of donors. There looks like we -- there was news out of Bloomberg this morning there might be a sixth that's sort of positioned itself as an anti-Clinton group that's backed by Robert Mercer, who is one of the wealthiest billionaires on the right. And this has led to an incredible amount of confusion among donors about where to put their resources.
YORKYou know, for months in the primary campaign, Trump spent months denouncing the big-donor money system as fundamentally corrupt. He talked about his rivals as being puppets to their big donors. He said big donors always want something. I mean, this was a very kind of left-wing critique of money in politics, and he spent months and months doing that. He criticized individual donors by name. He really dumped on a number of big Republican donors who were supporting other candidates, and he can't -- he's finding that he can't just do a 360 quickly and get all of their support.
YORKAnd so I'm not sure exactly how he fixes this unless he actually does self-fund some substantial portion of his campaign.
GJELTENMercedes, how does he fix it?
SCHLAPPWell, he's got to -- Donald Trump has to ask for money. This is what he's not doing. He's not going out to these donors and asking for money. The first fundraising letter that came out was yesterday. And the other thing is he has an opportunity, like Bernie Sanders, to plug into the small donors, really all these individuals, these thousands of people who he's -- he goes and prepares these rallies, and he speaks to these groups, those are individuals who would invest in his campaign because they believe in Donald Trump. So I think there's a missed opportunity...
GJELTENHis constituency has a lot in common with the Bernie Sanders...
YORKAbsolutely. So I think that there is a sense that you pick up these small donors, which is a phenomenon that we saw on the Bernie Sanders side, and then secondly is asking for money from top donors. I think that he has struggled in that area, going back to Byron's point, because of the fact that he has denounced some of these GOP major donors, and I think that not everyone will be on board...
GJELTENWell, did he mean it back then?
SCHLAPPWell, but it -- we've moved into the general election season. A lot of candidates say things that then they don't mean. Okay, remember Rubio said he wasn't going to run for the Senate, and guess what, Byron, he's running for the Senate.
YORKI've heard, yes.
KRAUSHAARHe also has continuously talked about how wealthy he is and how he -- even as recently as this week has said he would consider self-funding his campaign. So when you're a donor, and let's say this guy, he may not be worth the billions that he says he is, but it certainly doesn't make you want to chip in and be a part of that campaign team if he is willing to self-fund on his own. Now a lot of Republicans think that's a bluff, and they don't think he's actually going to invest a whole lot of money, he didn't do that much in the primary relative to the other candidates at least, but that, too, is really tamping down the eagerness of even donors that might agree with Trump on some issues or might want to see him successful to actually spend money on his campaign.
GJELTENAnd Josh, the more he talks about spending his own money, perhaps the more pressure there will be on him to release his tax returns and show how much money he actually could spend.
KRAUSHAARThat's right, and that's one thing that he has not shown any kind of willingness to do, and I don't think he will do before the campaign is over.
GJELTENSo the issue with Donald Trump is not just a money issue. We talked earlier about the huge staff disadvantage that he has. Let's take a sort of a bigger view here. Byron and Josh, you've both written about the sort of movement to free the delegates. We now read that there are perhaps hundreds of pledged delegates to the Republican convention who are ready to try to get a rule passed that will allow all the delegates to vote their consciences. How serious is that movement?
YORKYeah, I still don't think it's very serious. The talk -- I think what you see is the talk tends to pop up when Trump is in some sort of controversy like the Judge Curiel thing or like Orlando. There are a few delegates who are leading this. I just don't see it happening. I don't see the rules committee actually doing that, although the people who are running the rules committee are basically Romney people, and Mitt Romney has been, you know, extremely negative on Trump all the way down.
YORKBut I think Ben Ginsberg said the other day this would require -- doing this would require, you know, 2,300 delegates to do something unprecedented and huge in the first hour or two they've been in Cleveland. I think it's just very unlikely they're going to do it.
GJELTENMatea, there was, we've alluded to this, there was a big staff shakeup this week. Corey Lewandowski is out as the campaign manager. Most of the reporting on this suggests that Paul Manafort is going to take charge, but we've also seen Trump's own children playing a much more important role. How important do you think this shakeup was, and does that suggest that things really will change from this point forward?
GOLDWell, I think it's important from a point of view that there was clearly a lot of tension in the campaign. And to Mercedes' points, there are actually a lot of Republicans who are very glad to see Corey leave. He clearly clashed with a lot of people not only on the campaign but at the RNC, and Chairman Reince Priebus actually played a role in communicating to Trump that that was a really a problem, developing a relationship and a partnership between the campaign and the party.
GOLDI do think, though, it would be a mistake to assume that Corey's departure means a complete reboot for the campaign. I mean, this campaign is basically run by one strategist, and his name is Donald Trump, and he goes by his own instinct and his own intuition. He's his own best advisor, and as much as he does clearly rely and value the advice of his children, this -- his entire message and his focus and the way that he appeals to voters has really been driven by his sense of what people want to hear.
GOLDAnd I don't see the departure of a very loyal lieutenant changing that tone of his campaign.
SCHLAPPI do. I think that to be able to get rid of the internal strife in a campaign is incredibly important. I mean, I've been in two presidential campaigns, and when you do have a campaign that works a little more in harmony, and you're not fighting against each other, I think it really -- it really helps the candidate. I think, you know, Trump is lacking the communications team that he needs. He needs a speechwriter, for example, just basic components that you need to run an efficient campaign.
SCHLAPPIs Paul Manafort going to be enough, enough of a solution to help Trump? Absolutely not, especially when you're running against Hillary Clinton that has over 700 staffers, a very strong communications team. I mean, he really needs to figure out if he's going to be in the JV team or in the varsity team. And I think to become part of that varsity team, you've got to have the most talented people around you where it is -- where really people can get along.
SCHLAPPAnd I have to say his children have been his most effective surrogates. When you listen to Donald Trump Jr., when you listen to Ivanka, they're very convincing, they give a compelling reason why Donald Trump should be elected for president.
GJELTENWell, maybe he could use your help in this campaign. You have a lot of experience. What would you tell him? What would you advise him right now in terms of his message, not just the organizational the financial challenges but his message?
SCHLAPPSure. Well, I think his economic, populist message really resonates with Americans. When you look at the last job report numbers, when you see what the Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, said about the economy, he has an opportunity to say I can bring jobs to America. His whole message of America first really resonates with Americans, and I think his ability to pain Hillary Clinton as a negative figure, as someone who is coming in with dirty laundry, with lots of scandals, those two messages are his two critical messages.
SCHLAPPI also think that there needs to be the sense, which is going to be his challenge, of how he is being able to court women voters or college-educated voters, suburban moms like myself that really want to know more about what his policies will do for America.
GJELTENJosh, speaking to what Mercedes just said, there was a poll this week that showed, despite all the problems that Donald Trump has, when it comes handling the economy, voters prefer him over Hillary Clinton. That's a pretty important advantage right now, isn't it?
KRAUSHAARAbsolutely, and I think one of the understated points of this whole campaign is how vulnerable Hillary Clinton is and how -- frankly if this was a more generic Republican running, say John Kasich, Marco Rubio, the fundamentals would be in the Republicans' favor in this election, when you look at the state of the economy, when you look at the right track-wrong track numbers, which have a very strong correlation with how voters feel when they vote for president, when you just look at the overall mood of the country. People want change, and that would normally favor Republicans. It's why Donald Trump is still, despite all these historic problems, is still running competitively, still running, you know, several, you know, whatever poll you believe, between four and eight points behind Hillary Clinton.
KRAUSHAARI have a hard time -- I disagree with Mercedes in that. I don't think the suburban women and this college-educated demographic is going to change their mind. I think if you look at the polls, if you look at the focus groups, the antipathy towards Trump is pretty baked in at this point in the game, and it's going to be hard for him to turn it around.
SCHLAPPBut they don't like Hillary Clinton, either. That's the problem. So who do you like the least, basically, is what it boils down to. So there is still room.
KRAUSHAARSo Donald Trump -- and Donald Trump is...
SCHLAPPBut maybe I'm too hopeful.
KRAUSHAARHe's going to have to absolutely destroy Hillary Clinton in these next four months of the campaign. Otherwise I just find it difficult for that demographic to switch over to Trump.
GJELTENDid you see that story in the Washington Post a couple days ago about how the obituaries are reflecting this political debate, and the woman that said that she -- faced with the prospect of voting either for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, she decided to go to heaven. Byron.
YORKI think Trump did so well in the primaries first of all because voters saw him as strong and the others as weak. But the other was is that he -- he showed, in sometimes brutal fashion, the distance between the Republican establishment and many of their voters in issues like trade, like immigration, entitlements, foreign entanglements. He has apparently a natural policy sense, which basically at times rolls a grenade under Republican orthodoxy but is popular with voters.
YORKJust look in his reaction to Orlando and this immediate discussion, well, should someone on the terrorist watch list be able to purchase a gun. And Trump almost immediately said no, no. And that's against basically what the NRA is saying, it's against what a lot of Republican leaders. It's his natural sense, and it's not Republican, and I think that perhaps his best chance in a general election would be getting back to that.
GJELTENByron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And Matea, we have an email here from Tim in St. Peters, Missouri, who has precisely a question that I was going to ask, and that is Donald Trump's issues running a proper campaign, is it an indication of how he'll run the country? You know, I was thinking, I mean, he has pressed so hard on the issue of his competence, his proven competence, versus the proven incompetence of the Clinton-Obama people. What does the incompetence that he is displaying in his campaign management do to that message?
GOLDWell, I mean, I think there's several lessons you can take from the way he runs his campaign. One is that he likes to do things differently, which is something he claims is a -- obviously touts as a real asset, that he doesn't like to waste money, that he, you know, surrounds himself with a small group of people that he trusts. But there's also been a lot of indications that, you know, he has allowed there to be serious structural deficits that have built up between his campaign and Clinton's campaign, and I'm sure Democrats make the argument that, look, he has not clearly assessed this challenge of basically what's running a billion-dollar startup and led it effectively, and look what he would do for the country.
GOLDI think more to the point about sort of a lesson to draw about his leadership in the White House is sort of the instinctive approach he has to decision-making. I mean, he's so different from other candidates that we've seen vying for this position, who really surround themselves with advisors, take in a lot of advice, process it, come up with very carefully formulated policy positions. I mean, this is someone who, I think to Byron's point, clearly has an instinct for what people want to hear but also very much is driven by his own sense of what would make sense even if he does not necessarily check the policy or research it.
GJELTENMercedes, what's the role -- what role do you see the Republican National Committee playing going forward? I mean, that's a really big question. There's a -- there is a story coming out by Mark Leibovich in the New York Times magazine on Sunday about whether Trump has swallowed the GOP as a whole.
SCHLAPPI don't think he ever will as a whole. You know, that's a fascinating question, Tom, because we're seeing for the first time that the RNC is taking a -- not only a significant role in the campaign management side but an even greater role in the sense that they are managing the coalition side of the campaign, which is something that they do provide a supportive role in a presidential campaign. So I remember back in George W. Bush's races that the campaign itself had, for example, a Hispanic outreach team, and so did the RNC, and the RNC would provide that support for the campaign.
SCHLAPPAnd this is something that we're not seeing. It's very different with the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign, for example, does not have a Hispanic outreach team. It's being run completely from the RNC. As a political operative, that makes me incredibly nervous because you want to have that balance between the campaign and the RNC. You want to ensure that you have a robust campaign operation. And I'm not sure to what point is the RNC -- they're equipped, yes. Do they have a solid team in place? Absolutely. But can they manage running the national campaign out of the RNC without having the campaign take the lead role?
GJELTENWell, Bill Crystal tweeted yesterday that the hero, the 2016 GOP MVP, most valuable player, will be Reince Priebus, who steps up, ensures an open convention, saves the party from Trump and produces a ticket that wins in November. That may be some wishful thinking on Bill Crystal's part, Josh.
KRAUSHAARThat's a lot of wishful thinking, and I think that's part punditry, part actually trying to be active in the game from Bill Crystal's part. I will say that a lot of the tension is actually between the Republican Party committees. The RNC has had some challenges raising money in the age of Trump as their nominee, but the Senate campaign committee is trying to raise quite a bit of money. They've been quite successful. The challenge is Republicans want to raise money for the party. The Senate campaign committees want to say give us the money because we can focus squarely on the Senate candidates and the races that are so close.
GJELTENJosh Kraushaar is the political editor of the National Journal. We're talking about the challenges facing the Trump campaign going forward. Please join our conversation. Remember, our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. We're going to get to your calls after we take a break. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is the Diane Rehm Show.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And we're talking about the Donald Trump campaign for President and all the challenges it's now facing. My panel here in the studio consists of Josh Kraushaar from the National Journal, Matea Gold from The Washington Post, Byron York from the Washington Examiner. And Mercedes Schlapp, who's a Republican strategist and former media liaison for the George W. Bush administration.
GJELTENI want to start off this segment by reading a couple of emails. First of all, Brian in Jackson, New Hampshire writes, it amazes me how deep, party loyalty runs, especially among Republicans. Their party's almost unrecognizable to the one I remember from 20 years ago. Now, they have Trump, a complete outsider with no roots in their party, traditions or values, usurping their leadership. And despite the fact that he has no record whatsoever of supporting their platform, they'll vote for him just because he has appropriated the moniker. Is that right?
SCHLAPPNo. They're going to vote for Donald Trump because hash tag Never Hillary Clinton is the reason -- is a primary reason. They -- look, believe me, for many Republicans out there, Donald Trump was their number 16th choice or number 17th choice.
GJELTENWhat about you?
SCHLAPPWell, I had several candidates that I would have supported, but I'm going to support my Republican nominee. Hillary Clinton is not an option. When you look at her record, when you look at the fact that what we're going to see is another four years of an Obama administration copy-cat. So, for Republicans that are deciding we're going to take this very flawed candidate, but we're going to take him and we're going to support him, that's better for the Republicans than just deciding to go forward on the Hillary Clinton side. And I'd like to add, for many of these Republicans, especially for conservatives, it is a lot about the Supreme Court.
SCHLAPPBecause you're going to -- it means it's going to become a majority of liberal activist judges.
GJELTENAlmost inevitably, right?
SCHLAPPYes, for three -- for the next three generations to come. And that is just not an option for many Republicans and many conservatives out there.
GJELTENByron, I'm going to let you respond to Ruth in Missouri who writes, your current panel keeps saying Trump needs to quit making big mistakes. However, if he's saying what he believes and those beliefs predict how he would govern, he's not making mistakes. He's shining a light on his world view. I believe the American people should know how the candidates view the world. It's wrong to tell Trump, in effect, to lie, so that people won't know the true Trump.
YORKWell, I think -- I, one of the mistakes I mentioned was attacking Ted Cruz's wife, which was just a big mistake. I mean, it doesn't, doesn't somehow reflect Donald Trump's world view. I don't know. He also, by the way, during that disastrous Wisconsin week, just completely screwed up a relatively simple question over abortion. And he attacked the state's popular Republican Governor. So no, these are actual political mistakes that he could quit doing without changing his essential Trumpiness. And have a lot less trouble.
GJELTENWell, I'm a little confused about what is the essential Trumpiness. One thing we haven't talked about are some of the policy issues that are raises, or should be raised in this campaign. I mean, we've seen, Matea, we've seen Trump make conflicting statements about gun control. It's not clear, exactly, where he stands on gun control. He has said that he's a big supporter of LGBT rights, and yet, he came out with an evangelical advisory board yesterday that consists almost entirely of people hostile to LGBT rights.
GJELTENVin Weber, a veteran Republican strategist told my colleague Mara Liasson yesterday that Trump has no policy operation whatsoever. What do you make of that?
GOLDWell, I think what we've seen clearly is there's one, sort of, core policy position that is shaping his message to Americans. And that's effectively protectionism. Protecting you against the other, protecting you against immigrants, protecting you against bad deals that we have with foreign countries. The rest of it is really an amalgam of Trump's own views that, frankly, a lot of them go against conservative orthodoxy. And that's something that I know a lot of conservatives have really wrestled with and struggled with.
GOLDI mean, his position -- he's been far more vocal on gay rights than many conservatives, I think, would expect from their nominee. And as you pointed out, Byron, he's taken some conflicting positions on abortion. But I -- and, he, look, they have a small policy shop. It's actually being led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But I think what we've seen is even when he does a teleprompter speech, as he's about to do today, he often does go off the script and inject his own thoughts on things. But I think protectionism is at the core of pretty much everything he's saying.
KRAUSHAARIf you go to Hillary Clinton's website and it has the issues button, you push that, I mean, you come up with 30 plus categories of detailed policy positions on this and that. If you go to Trump, you don't find that. You find, I think there were seven the last time I looked at it. He simply does not have detailed positions on virtually all of these things. He has been actually kind of selling himself as the person who would make the right decisions on this. And he's done a couple of smart things. He did release this list of judges that he says he would choose among for the Supreme Court.
KRAUSHAARI talked to someone who was at the evangelical meeting with him yesterday. And he described Trump's pitch as judges, judges, judges. Because it was a group of judges that conservatives liked.
GJELTENSo he knew his audience there.
KRAUSHAARThere was a very good reaction to that. But this theme of protecting is actually really smart, because it applies to evangelicals, who can support somebody who doesn't actually believe what they believe. Because they think he'll protect them.
GJELTENLet's go to the phones now. We do have some lines open, so if you want to call, remember, out number is 1-800-433-8850. First up is Joe, who is calling from Blountville, Tennessee. Hello Joe, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOEYes, thank you. I'm just struck by the negatives in this campaign. And that, for example, you have two people of very high unfavorable ratings. You have Secretary Clinton in two major speeches who came out, basically, and just listed the negatives of her opponent. You have, you have Donald Trump who is always saying negatives. And Miss Schlapp just encouraged him to go more negative, which I don't think...
JOE...would be hard -- which would be hard for him to do. And, but this all, but compared to, especially during the last campaign, where Romney, I believe it was, running against Obama, and he was encouraged by everyone to don't go negative. Don't go negative. We've gotta stay positive. The way to win is to stay positive. And I do appreciate the -- a little while ago, the listings of the positives that Donald Trump can run on. The improvement in the economy that he can, that he can look toward.
GJELTENSo Joe, does this, does this make it harder for you to choose a candidate?
JOEWell, like Miss Schlapp just said, I'm -- I would count myself as one of the never Hillary crowd. This was not -- Donald Trump was not my choice, not maybe third or fourth choice, even. But it's what we have and I know that it would be better than Secretary Clinton.
GJELTENOkay. Thanks a lot, Joe. Mercedes, I want to let you respond to Joe, who accuses you of encouraging Donald Trump to go negative.
SCHLAPPWell, Joe, don't turn on the TV right now, okay? Because Donald Trump is going to unleash on Hillary Clinton, apparently.
GJELTENIn just a few minutes.
SCHLAPPLook, sadly, the campaign has -- the campaigns, and I say this the Clinton campaign and the Donald Trump campaign, have really focused on the personality -- on the character of the individual. They talk about temperament, they talk about judgment. This campaign's becoming less -- this election cycle's becoming less about policy and more about -- it's personality driven. Because I think that candidates -- I think the electorate, they know what they're going to get. It's either going to be Hillary Clinton, which is -- she's running on her record.
SCHLAPPShe's running on the fact that she could be a third term Obama, which has its positives and its negatives. And then Donald Trump, which, who is the negotiator, the negotiator in chief who is -- would base his, I think, he's not an ideologue. He's a type of personality that would gather Republicans and Democrats in a room and say, let's work out a deal. And that's appealing to Americans who have felt that Washington has not listened to their concerns. That Washington is dysfunctional and that there's gridlock. And they want an end to that.
GJELTENWell, Donald Trump is speaking at this moment. And the caption on the screen is Trump delivers an anti-Clinton attack speech. So I'm afraid our listener Joe will be disappointed.
YORKWell, remember, his, I mean, his whole experience, so far, has been beating 15 other guys.
YORKIn the Republican primaries. And back when people would ask, are you going to pivot? Are you going to pivot? And he said, I've still got two people to beat. Well, he still has one now.
GJELTENSpeaking to that point, Frank is on the line from Port Charlotte, Florida. Hello, Frank. You're on the Diane Rehm Show. Thanks for calling.
FRANKWell, thank you. Good morning. What I keep hearing from your pundits and the rest of the news press is why I'm going to vote for Donald Trump. And that is what a terrible campaign this man has run and couldn't possibly have done a worse job. And somehow, the man who ran this terrible campaign, horrible, has managed to slay 16 other people that had better names, more money. Hillary on the other hand, was running against a socialist that was so far off scale that nobody could even measure him.
FRANKAnd she had a terrible time. And yet, you folks keep saying Donald is running a terrible campaign. When are you going to get that we're mad at the press for being a bunch of idiots?
SCHLAPPThat's directed at you, Tom.
GJELTENNow Mercedes, you can't answer, because you're not part of the press. I'm going to give my fellow journalist panelists opportunities to respond. Josh.
KRAUSHAARWell look, Trump ran a very successful primary campaign, and frankly, his authenticity and his lack of detail when it came to policy played to his advantage in some ways. Because he -- a lot of voters thought that whenever candidates talk about policy, they're reading talking points. They're scripted. They don't look like they're really being who they really are. And frankly, what's happened in this last year has only underscored that point. The challenge is that the general election against one person is different than a primary campaign against 16 different Republicans.
KRAUSHAARAnd it takes more money, it takes more organization, it takes more analytics and infrastructure that he hasn't shown. He has put together so far. So again, a primary, you're trying to get your name out there, Trump already had a pretty nice name identity, even before he jumped in the race. And he has certainly got a lot of earned media from the press. Because he was so entertaining to follow. But now there's a lot more parody, now that he's running against Hillary Clinton, and he'll need some of these campaign tools to help him on a one on one race.
GJELTENWell, there is something ironic, isn't there, Bryon, about the fact that his campaign may, on the one hand, be based or have a foundation in animosity toward the press. And yet, as Josh just said, he owes his credit in large part to his press coverage.
YORKHere's what Republicans are afraid of. Go back to after the 2012 election. Democratic strategists, Obama strategists, bragged on how they had defined Mitt Romney early in the race. Back in May and June of 2012 when Mitt Romney didn't have very much money, wasn't getting a whole lot of traction, they were out there hitting him day after day after day and defining him. And he'd lost even before he knew he had lost, they said. And this became kind of a mantra among Democrats. And it's exactly what Hillary Clinton's people hope they are doing right now as we speak.
YORKThere are ad campaigns in the tens of millions of dollars by Clinton, her campaign, and affiliated groups. A lot of it targeting Trump. Some of it positive, a lot of it targeting Trump. And there's this belief, yesterday was seven weeks since Trump clinched the Republican nomination, winning Indiana. What has he accomplished in those seven weeks? I think the Clinton people would say they've accomplished a lot more in framing him during that time.
GJELTENByron York is the Chief Political Correspondent for the Washington Examiner. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And while we talk, Donald Trump is giving this long awaited speech. This is the speech attacking Hillary Clinton that he was scheduled to give the day after the terrible shooting in Orlando and he postponed it. And from what we can tell, he is really taking Hillary Clinton on today, calling her quote, a world class liar. Matea Gold, the question here is how things are going to change going forward.
GJELTENOne thing we have not talked about, and we're sort of waiting, perhaps he'll mention something about it today in this speech is his Vice Presidential pick. Tony Perkins, who was at the meeting yesterday of evangelical leaders said, this is going to be really important. It's going to really -- it could really change the conversation, change the narrative about Donald Trump. Do you agree with that, that his choice of a Vice-President will be very important?
GOLDYou know, I actually am pretty skeptical that Vice Presidential picks can have a major impact on the trajectory of a race. You know, we were hearing from some Republicans yesterday that a really dynamic VP pick could really completely bring a new tone and focus to this campaign. Look, this campaign is about Donald Trump. He's not going to pick someone who overshadows him. I don't know that there is someone out there that could possibly overshadow him. And I do think whoever he picks is going to reinforce his message that he's been giving to Americans.
GOLDI mean, one of the things that I think is -- he could do is try to bring on someone who has the ability to reach out to some of the demographics, such as suburban moms, such as, you know, African-Americans and Latinos. People who he really needs at the polls in November. I mean, that remains to be seen, and you know, I saw an interview last night with one of his best friends, Phil Ruffin, who said he had suggested that Trump pick Condy Rice to be his VP. And apparently, she turned down that request.
GOLDSo, but I think, I mean, one of the things that is so striking and to the previous caller's point is that Clinton is actually, you know, has a very small margin over Trump, considering some of these huge gaffs that he's had. And he has said things that really, as we've said many times throughout this entire election cycle, would be disqualifying for any other candidate. It would have ended their campaign, and I do think it does speak to the vulnerability that she has, the fact that he is really not that far behind her, when he has made, you know, racially incendiary comments.
GOLDWhere he has, you know, suggested that he should be given credit for predicting a horrible slaughter in an Orlando nightclub. I mean, these are things that I think, in any other year, might have turned off a lot of voters.
GJELTENWell, Mercedes Schlapp, if I can characterize you fairly as a somewhat reluctant Trump supporter, who as a Vice Presidential pick would make you feel more comfortable with that ticket?
SCHLAPPWell, I, you know, I would have liked a John Kasich or a Marco Rubio on that ticket. I think they fit...
GJELTENAt the top?
SCHLAPP...well, no. As a VP pick.
GJELTENAs a VP.
SCHLAPPI think that, which obviously now, Marco's running for the Senate, and John Kasich has said that he...
GJELTENHe won't take it.
SCHLAPP...he won't take it. But it's that type of personality. It's that compassionate conservative. The one that can drive in, bring in those women voters. Those Republicans who are on the fence. There are Republicans out there who I have spoken to who clearly have said they are waiting to see who Trump picks as his VP to then make the decision. So it is interesting. While VP picks are normally not important, in this case, for Donald Trump, I think a VP pick will definitely sway certain Republican voters.
GJELTENNot because that Vice President, potential, you know, President in the case of something happening, is himself so important, or herself so important, but because of what it reveals about Donald Trump.
SCHLAPPAbout Donald Trump and who he picks. And also helping to establish a tone and be part of the Trump team.
GJELTENByron York, we're at the end of the program. What do you look for now in terms of what can, kind of, redirect this campaign going forward?
YORKWell, I do think they're going to build some sort of structure. I think that it's been kind of amazing. I think the departure of Cory Lewandowski, it was almost as if a big weather front had kind of passed over. And so I do think that they will build a better organization, but nothing like people expect, and nothing like Romney 2012.
KRAUSHAARI think the big question is who wants to take the VP slot. I think there are a lot of good choices, but the question is who would want to take the position?
GJELTENJosh Kraushaar is the Political Editor of The National Journal. Matea Gold is also with us, a reporter covering money and politics for the Washington Post. My other panelists were Byron York from the Washington Examiner and Mercedes Schlapp, a Republican strategist and a columnist for the Washington Times. In his speech now, Donald Trump has just called on Bernie Sanders voters to join our movement. So, that could be yet another factor going forward. Thanks to all of you for coming in. Thanks for listening. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
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