The new Trump campaign regime is in place, and its first big test was the candidate's speech last night in North Carolina. It was, to my eyes and ears, his best of the campaign -- including his convention address. This post was originally going to be an analysis of what he said, and how it may bode well for the remainder of the fall campaign. But then this morning's Manafort bombshell detonated, again scrambling the picture. We'll return to Trump's remarks shortly, but the fact that his campaign chairman was forced out has become the bigger story. Without a shred of doubt, Manafort had to go. Not only were his pro-Putin Ukrainian dealings unseemly and troubling, it now appears that they may have been illegal under federal law. With Trump trying to use "Crooked Hillary's" pay-to-play corruption as a cudgel against her, the last thing he needed was a serious foreign influence scandal consuming the upper management of his own campaign. If Trump had subjected Manafort to the sort of "extreme vetting" he talks about in the context of refugees, he would never have been hired in the first place.
This belated and unavoidable decision comes at an unfortunate juncture for Team Trump because it is overshadowing coverage of the nominee's strong speech, and of some tightening national poll numbers. Nevertheless, for the umpteenth time, Donald Trump is said to have begun his "presidential pivot." Color me deeply skeptical that he can maintain anywhere near this level of discipline, but these comments at least felt different in some meaningful way. Here is full video of the rally, followed by some transcript excerpts worth showcasing:
Jobs, safety, opportunity. Fair and equal representation. This is what I promise to African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and all Americans. But to achieve this New American Future we must break from the failures of the past. As you know, I am not a politician. I have worked in business, creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life. I’ve never wanted to use the language of the insiders, and I’ve never been politically correct – it takes far too much time, and can often make more difficult. Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues. But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth. I speak the truth for all of you, and for everyone in this country who doesn’t have a voice...
In the world I come from, if something is broken, you fix it. If something isn’t working, you replace it. If a product doesn’t deliver, you make a change. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens. That’s why I am running: to end the decades of bitter failure and to offer the American people a new future of honesty, justice and opportunity. A future where America, and its people, always – and I mean always – come first. Aren’t you tired of a system that gets rich at your expense? Aren’t you tired of the same old lies and the same old broken promises? And Hillary Clinton has proven to be one of the greatest liars of all time. Aren’t you tired of arrogant leaders who look down on you, instead of serving and protecting you? That is all about to change – and it’s about to change soon. We are going to put the American people first again...
So while sometimes I can be too honest, Hillary Clinton is the exact opposite: she never tells the truth. One lie after another, and getting worse each passing day. The American people are still waiting for Hillary Clinton to apologize for all of the many lies she’s told to them, and the many times she’s betrayed them. Tell me, has Hillary Clinton ever apologized for lying about her illegal email server and deleting 33,000 emails? Has Hillary Clinton apologized for turning the State Department into a pay-for-play operation where favors are sold to the highest bidder? Has she apologized for lying to the families who lost loved ones at Benghazi? Has she apologized for putting Iran on the path to nuclear weapons? Has she apologized for Iraq? For Libya? For Syria? Has she apologized for unleashing ISIS across the world? Has Hillary Clinton apologized for the decisions she made that have led to so much death, destruction and terrorism? Speaking of lies, we now know from the State Department announcement that President Obama lied about the $400 million dollars in cash that was flown to Iran. He denied it was for the hostages, but it was. He said we don’t pay ransom, but he did. He lied about the hostages – openly and blatantly – just like he lied about Obamacare.
Very strong. Despite her requisite assignment of credit, this messaging has Kellyanne Conway's fingerprints all over it -- and perhaps someone else's. Contrition and self-awareness. Casting his gaze higher. Embracing his outsider status in a more cogent way, while attacking the status quo with sharpness and vigor. And training deserved fire on Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. As I listened to the speech, I couldn't help but wonder if Conway sat Trump down for an emergency session on polling and the race's trajectory. Something like, "I'm a professional. Here is what's happening. You're losing, and if you don't change, you will not win. You've hired me for a reason. Please take my advice." Totally speculative, of course -- but it was clear that someone seized the reins of Trump's messaging, at least for one night, and did a bang-up job. If Trump has any ability to control himself and buckle down with sustained focus, he'll remain on this path. It may be too little, too late; the map is daunting and negative opinion of him is exceptionally high and has calcified over many months. But his only hope is to internalize this shift, stick to it, and significantly exceed expectations at the debate -- a feat that could be aided by public expectations for him, and for her. By the way, in connection to yesterday's electoral map rundown, the campaign's first television ad buys -- announced shortly after we published this post -- appear sound and realistic:
Trump's ad buy so far: $3.98 million— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) August 18, 2016
Florida — $1.4 mil
Pennsylvania — $985k
North Carolina — $830k
Ohio — $745k
Nothing in Virginia yet.
The last 24 hours have been extremely eventful for the Trump campaign. When the history of this election is written, August 18 and 19 will either be remembered as an important and dramatic turning point, or as one of the final nails in a political coffin. I'll leave you with another smart play by Team Trump:
First on ABC: Mike Pence will join @realDonaldTrump tomorrow in flood-ravaged Baton Rouge.— Candace Smith (@CandaceSmith_) August 19, 2016
Meanwhile, Obama golfs and Hillary lamely criticizes Trump's attention to a national crisis as a "distraction." What Trump and Pence are doing the right and politically smart thing, the state's Democratic governor's partisan request notwithstanding. Finally, the media's response to this president vacationing through massive flooding (ahem), and its coverage priorities vis-a-vis the Iran ransom, tells you everything you need to know about double standards and the press.