It was just two weeks ago that Donald Trump accepted his party’s nomination, basking in a shower of confetti and balloons onstage in Cleveland.
Not even 24 hours later, there were hints of turmoil to come: In a downtown Cleveland hotel just blocks from the stage, Trump revived discredited accusations that rival Sen. Ted Cruz’s father had been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the nominee joked that if he lost the race he’d blame his running mate.
It’s been little but campaign chaos ever since, with a catalog of calamities: Trump enraged party leaders by refusing to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin or Sen. John McCain of Arizona in their primary battles; he ejected a baby from a campaign rally; he refused to abandon his feud with the Muslim family of a deceased U.S. soldier, then sparked outrage by saying he’d “always wanted” a Purple Heart – awarded for wounds suffered in combat – but that it was “much easier” to receive one from a supporter.
He was mum on those fronts Wednesday, but he dredged up two past controversies, telling a Daytona Beach, Florida, crowd that “perverted” people had misinterpreted him last summer when he’d said Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” And he said he’d been misunderstood, too, when he seemingly made fun of a reporter with a disability, an incident featured in one of the ads that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has been airing.
At this point, a Republican needs to have 90 to 95 percent of the Republican base united behind him and that hasn’t happened.
Republican strategist Carter Wrenn
The tumult may have taken a toll: Clinton opened a 10-point lead over Trump in the latest post-convention, Fox News poll, leading him 49 to 39 percent. That’s even as 61 percent of voters said they thought Clinton was dishonest. But the survey found that more than half of voters think Trump is either not qualified or lacks the temperament to be president. His dishonesty rating – 62 percent – topped Clinton’s.
“Most candidates leave their conventions with a bit of a bump and do things that fuel that bump, that expands their base,” said Carter Wrenn, a veteran North Carolina Republican strategist. “This campaign is defying all the rules.”
Strategists suggest the campaign still has time to right itself, even as some Republicans head for the exits. Neither Trump nor Clinton is particularly popular and voters remain deeply mistrustful of Clinton. Many voters won’t begin to tune in until after the Olympic Games wrap up – they will begin Friday – or until after Labor Day. And Trump and Republicans raised $80 million last month, his campaign reported Wednesday, bringing his take closer to that of Clinton’s campaign and Democrats, who pulled in around $90 million in July.
This campaign is defying all the rules.
Republican strategist Carter Wrenn
Yet few candidates leave a convention only to see support among their bases splinter: “At this point, a Republican needs to have 90 to 95 percent of the Republican base united behind him, and that hasn’t happened,” Wrenn said.
Trump had closed out his convention with an uptick in the polls. He spent the first night of the Democratic National Convention blasting at the speakers, via Twitter.
But later in the week, as he broke with tradition by holding a campaign event during his opponent’s convention, Trump sparked criticism for seemingly inviting Russia to use its hacking skills to get involved in the U.S. presidential election by finding the 33,000 emails that had been deleted from Clinton’s private email server.
That opening largely overshadowed a Democratic controversy: Democrats charged that the Russians had been involved in thousands of leaked emails published by WikiLeaks showing that Democratic National Committee officials had favored Clinton over her Democratic primary rival, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Over the weekend, Trump’s missteps began to mount: He was criticized for saying in an interview Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t cross over into Ukraine – though Putin had seized the country’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
In the same interview Trump implied that one of the speakers at the Democratic National Convention, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, had died in Iraq in 2004, was a Clinton campaign prop. He chided Khizr Khan’s wife, Ghazala, for standing silently as her husband delivered his speech, suggesting she hadn’t been allowed to speak.
Days later, as Republicans recoiled over criticizing a Gold Star family, Trump dug in, the dust-up serving to reinforce the fears of his Republican critics that their candidate is incapable of letting go of a grudge. And it overshadowed Clinton’s own controversial remarks Sunday.
Indeed, Clinton, has largely avoided scrutiny over her own misstep: She wrongly insisted in a Fox News interview Sunday that FBI director James Comey had said she was “truthful” during the investigation into her use of a private email server. Clinton had repeatedly said she did not have classified information in her email, but Comey said she did.
Trump said Wednesday that his campaign was “right now the best, in terms of being united, since it began.”