Reports: Frustrated Trump Advisers Grumble About Debate 'Disaster,' Campaign Mood 'Dark'

Posted: Sep 29, 2016 10:30 AM

Separate reports, similar message via exasperated campaign aides: Trump blew it under the brightest lights, and set himself up for failure. Before you read on, why would multiple advisers leak such dirty laundry to the likes of the New York Times and NBC News -- outlets that embody what the GOP nominee derides as the 'disgusting' and 'corrupt' media? Perhaps because they know their candidate won't listen to them unless a negative narrative lights a fire under his rear end, which is apparently what happened before his big (and generally successful) August pivot. If his yes-men keep telling him he won -- look at all of these "polls!" -- then there's nothing to worry about it. But if the media, which Trump tracks obsessively, starts talking about how badly he whiffed, he might get angry enough to change. That, I suspect, is why seven different campaign sources whispered these gripes to the Times.  Note the word 'convince' in the first paragraph here:

A delicate approach to the candidate is now in the works. Before his advisers can shape Mr. Trump’s performance for the next debate, on Oct. 9 in St. Louis — which, contrary to speculation, he does plan to attend, a top aide said — they need to convince him that he can do better than he did in the first one and that only a disciplined, strategic attack can damage Mrs. Clinton with voters. Advisers said that Mr. Trump had been prepped to handle Mrs. Clinton’s attacks on Monday but did not effectively execute responses to them...Even as Mr. Trump’s advisers publicly backed him on Tuesday and praised his debate performance, they were privately awash in second-guessing about why he stopped attacking Mrs. Clinton on trade and character issues and instead grew erratic, impatient and subdued as the night went on. In interviews, seven campaign aides and advisers, most of whom sought anonymity to speak candidly, expressed frustration and discouragement over their candidate’s performance Monday night. They blamed his overstuffed schedule, including a last-minute rally in Virginia that was added days before the debate. They blamed the large number of voluble people on his prep team, including two retired military figures with no political background. And they blamed the lack of time spent on preparing a game plan in the first place...

Almost all of his advisers rejected the idea that the debate was a failure for Mr. Trump, noting that he landed some punches and insisting that Mrs. Clinton looked more polished than she was because of her opposition. But all of them described the debate as filled with missed opportunities. And they openly expressed frustration that Mr. Trump seemed unable to stop chasing chum that Mrs. Clinton tossed at him...There were early efforts to run a more standard form of general election debate-prep camp, led by Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News chief, at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, N.J. But Mr. Trump found it hard to focus during those meetings, according to multiple people briefed on the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. That left Mr. Ailes, who at the time was deeply distracted by his removal from Fox and the news media reports surrounding it, discussing his own problems as well as recounting political war stories, according to two people present for the sessions...The team had primed Mr. Trump to look for roughly a dozen key phrases and expressions Mrs. Clinton uses when she is uncertain or uncomfortable, but he did not seem to pay attention during the practice sessions, one aide said, and failed to home in on her vulnerabilities during the debate.

In other words, they're not trying to sabotage him; they're begging him to listen to them, delivering their concerns through a conduit that will get his attention. NBC News is hearing similar things:

Will Trump himself wake up to the reality that the general election is meaningfully different than the primary, and that more or less winging it didn't cut it on Monday? The nuggets about Trump losing focus and evincing little interest during debate preparation sessions indicate that the man Republicans have nominated lacked either the focus or the seriousness of purpose to adequately prepare for arguably the single most watched and most important event of his life.  So long as he remains in an "I won!" bubble, he won't adjust his approach for the final two debates.  Then again, his blamestorming about the moderator, his microphone, etc. suggests that he doesn't really believe his adulatory echo chamber's hosannas this time.  Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who has earned her keep as a pollster for decades, can surely sit him down and explain the difference between his beloved internet polls, and these real numbers:

Stripping away the spin and braggadocio, Hillary won on Monday night, and they know it.  How will the campaign respond?  Or are reportedly warring internal factions hampering Team Trump's ability to focus and adapt?  This guy's already on his third campaign manager.  The kids can't seriously believe another change at the top is a wise move, can they?

I'll leave you with two links. First, here is Allahpundit once again marveling that in addition to woefully under-preparing for his monumentally important first debate with Hillary, America's most famous alleged "self-funding" billionaire still hasn't cut an unprecedentedly humongous check to his own campaign. With the stroke of a pen, he could finance an operation that would overwhelm Hillary's ground game and come close to matching her on-air.  He hasn't, but there are reports floating around that he's contemplating doing so. Tick tock, Donald. Second, we told you about Trump's self-destructive decision to raise Hillary's "Miss Piggy/Miss Housekeeping" attack the morning after the debate. Setting Trump's related conduct off to the side, did Team Clinton bother to vet this woman? This is their new poster-woman-slash-surrogate?  This is their new character witness against Donald Trump?  Good Lord:

UPDATE - The campaign denies any internal dissent, though it's also being reported that Trump is angry that anyone is admitting that he didn't win. But...they're also changing their approach for the next debate, Mister Trump's glorious victory, or whatever.  Or they're not.  Pick the report you prefer.