Trump running out of time
© Getty

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE is facing a moment of truth after one of the worst weeks of his campaign. 

Republicans and independent observers alike assert that Trump needs to turn things around — and fast — with only five weeks to go before Election Day.


“You’re either playing offense or defense — and if you’re playing defense with five weeks to go, you’re losing,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, a Trump supporter.

But O’Connell and others note that this week presents some opportunities for Trump.

His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceREAD: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump White House releases rough transcript of early Trump-Ukraine call minutes before impeachment hearing MORE, could give him an assist with a strong performance against Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE in the sole vice presidential debate, which is set for Tuesday. 

Trump, meanwhile, will have a chance to make amends for a widely criticized performance in the first presidential debate when he and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Resistance or unhinged behavior? Partisan hatred reaches Trump's family MORE clash again on Sunday in St. Louis. 

In between, the GOP nominee’s team has suggested that he will seek to turn the spotlight on Clinton and her husband, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPrince Andrew says he regrets staying with Jeffrey Epstein Now for your moment of Zen from the Trump impeachment hearings The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today MORE, and how they amassed a considerable fortune after leaving the White House in January 2001.

Trump’s senior communications adviser, Jason Miller, on Monday issued a statement alleging that almost all of Hillary Clinton’s income had “come from paid speeches and trading access.”

Trump himself has sought to juxtapose his record in business with Clinton’s in government, tweeting on Sunday morning, “I have created tens of thousands of jobs and will bring back great American prosperity. Hillary has only created jobs at the FBI and [Department of Justice]!”

But Trump needs to show discipline in making those kinds of charges — and hope they gain quick traction. Most of the news is ominous for his campaign right now.

A nationwide CNN/ORC poll released Monday gave Clinton a lead of 5 percentage points. A Monmouth University poll the same day showed Clinton with a double-digit lead in Colorado, where Trump held two rallies Monday in an attempt to narrow that gap. A third poll, from Bloomberg, showed Clinton ahead by a single point in North Carolina, a state that was once reliably Republican but has now become a battleground.

Clinton has also taken the lead in nearly every significant battleground poll since the first debate.

All of those factors amplify the sense that the past seven days have been bad for Trump. In addition to his debate misfire, he got into a public feud with a former Miss Universe, was hit by a New York Times exposé of his taxes and suggested — without evidence  — that Hillary Clinton had been unfaithful to her husband. 

Trump has tried to turn some of these factors to his advantage. Surrogates such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have argued that Trump’s use of tax laws is evidence of his “genius.” The nominee himself said at one of his Monday rallies that “fixing our broken tax code is one of the main reasons I'm running for president.”

The New York Times story noted that Trump had declared a loss of more than $900 million on his 1995 tax return, an amount so large that the newspaper posited that it could have wiped out any federal income tax liability on income up to $50 million per year over 18 years.

The ensuing controversy is sure to take up a considerable amount of time this week — and that may be time that Trump cannot spare.

“In one way, this is a very critical week. But in another way, I think it is too late,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

Reeher argued that too much “damage” had already been done to Trump’s candidacy by controversies stretching back many months and that there was not enough time to change the trajectory of the race, absent some extremely dramatic development. 

“The only thing that is going to make a difference now is something from the Clinton camp — a major mishap,” he said. “We’re not talking here about stumbling getting into your car. We’re talking about losing your train of thought so badly in a debate that people literally think you are having a seizure.”

Some Trump supporters are investing hope in a different kind of drama. 

WikiLeaks will hold a Berlin news conference on Tuesday, at which it is expected to release new information unflattering toward Clinton — though no one is sure what is in store. 

Wikileaks released emails between Democratic National Committee staffers that embarrassed the party as its national convention opened in Philadelphia this summer. Controversial Trump backer Roger Stone asserted on Twitter that Clinton would be “done” in the wake of the new disclosures.

Trump’s supporters believe their man still has a fighting chance — and they emphasize how fast the polls can change. After all, the GOP nominee had almost erased Clinton’s once-comfortable polling advantage before the first debate.

But they also acknowledge that he has little room for error left.

“I don’t know that it’s too late,” said O’Connell. “But the window is certainly closing for Trump.”