Trump’s campaign hits a wall

Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House is teetering amid dismal poll numbers, racially tinged controversies and a rising chorus of criticism from within the GOP.

After knocking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) out of the primary in May, Trump picked up momentum and made strides in unifying the party. But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has failed to pivot to general election mode and is now in his third straight week of bad headlines. 

{mosads}Not surprisingly, the angst in the Republican Party is intensifying. 

“I think the tailspin could be really bad — historic proportions bad,” said Tony Fratto, who served as deputy White House press secretary during former President George W. Bush’s administration. “I think it’ll be a historically bad loss. I’ve said that from the very beginning.”

A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for a comment on this story, but Trump and his aides often note that the former reality TV star confounded every Beltway prediction to win the nomination in the first place. After that emphatic victory, the businessman might well believe he can repeat the same feat in a general election.

But several recent developments and polls have cast serious doubt on that theory.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appears to have found her voice after a bruising primary against Bernie Sanders. While the Vermont senator has yet to bow out and endorse Clinton, major players in the party — including President Obama and Vice President Biden — have backed the former secretary of State. 

Some Republican donors are staying on the sidelines, which could give Clinton a tremendous edge in resources.

A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday gave Clinton a 12-point lead over Trump among likely voters nationwide. An astounding 55 percent of those polled said they could never vote for Trump.

A Washington Post/ABC News survey this week found that 7 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of the real estate mogul. 

Even before those surveys came out, Republican institutional support for Trump — tepid at the best of times — has been chilled further by two controversies. 

Remarks he made about a judge of Mexican heritage overseeing a legal case against Trump University horrified some Republicans.

His reaction to the mass shooting in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed by a lone gunman, was also criticized. In his major speech on the topic, Trump on Monday said the atrocity would not have happened had the United States not allowed the killer’s parents to enter the country legally a generation ago.

In separate remarks during two television interviews — one with Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” and another on NBC’s “Today” show — Trump seemed to imply that Obama harbored some secret sympathy for Islamic radicals.

Amid the various furors, which also included a revocation of press credentials for The Washington Post, GOP figures in Washington, D.C., and beyond have sought to distance themselves from their standard-bearer.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters on Tuesday that he had been “discouraged by the direction” of Trump’s campaign and by his Monday address. “I did not think yesterday’s speech was the type of speech one would give who wants to lead this country through difficult times.”

That contrasts sharply with Corker’s comments in May after meeting with Trump at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. At the time, Corker characterized the powwow as “a good meeting about foreign policy and domestic issues” and praised Trump’s foreign policy speech in April as “very thoughtful.” 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico this week that he would not talk about his own party’s presumptive nominee until the November election was over.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to answer questions about Trump in recent days. Last week, he made the eye-opening remark that Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Trump’s innuendos about Obama and Islamic radicalism were “way over the top” during a Wednesday appearance on CNN’s “At This Hour with Berman and Bolduan.” Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said on Wednesday that he didn’t “plan to” vote for Trump in November.

Some experts note that Trump’s outsider image helped him during the primary, when a restive, dissatisfied Republican base was looking for a maverick. 

But the general election could be a different matter.

“At the general election stage, you need the state level or the local level [party officials] to help out with turnout. If you don’t have people rowing in your boat in states that matter, then you are going to run into a problem,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

On Wednesday, Trump told a crowd of supporters in Atlanta that Republican leaders needed to “be quiet.” The billionaire added that he might need “to do it alone.”

Reeher is somewhat less pessimistic than many Republican strategists about Trump’s chance of prevailing over Clinton. Although he stopped well short of predicting a Republican victory, he pointed out that past nominees such as George H.W. Bush suffered worse polling numbers than Trump early in their campaigns, only to go on to win the White House.

In addition, no major polls have yet emerged that were conducted entirely in the wake of the Orlando attack. Trump rose in GOP polls late last year after terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif.

Political winds this election cycle have shifted dramatically at times, and that could happen many times between now and Nov. 8, including when the FBI completes its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State.

But Reeher sounded a note of caution about Trump’s apparent difficulties in appealing to a general election audience. 

“This style of his, if it were amenable to change, I think we would have seen it change more by now,” the professor said.

Meanwhile, Republican critics of Trump are already focusing on shoring up the GOP’s majority in the House and the Senate — a startling decision at this stage in an election cycle, because it suggests resignation to losing another White House race.

“I think in the minds of people right now, that is the focus — preserving our majorities in the Senate and the House,” said Dan Judy, a GOP strategist whose firm North Star Opinion Research worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential bid. “You’re seeing it among people in Washington, you’re seeing it among many of the major-money people.”

Florida Republican strategist Rick Wilson, a longtime critic of Trump, laughed before rattling off a list of what he sees as the failures of the GOP standard-bearer.

“Look, I mean, what could be going wrong with Donald Trump? … He is being out-raised by every possible fundraising metric. He is losing in the national polling averages. He is being crushed in the swing-state polls. He is being devastated in the polls in the states that he claims he is going to put into play, such as California, New Jersey and New York. … And he is increasingly erratic.”

Wilson added, “This is unlike an ordinary campaign where you focus on the top of the ticket. This year, instead of good things rolling down the hill, it’s like these candidates are at the bottom of a chute in a butcher’s shop.

“They’re going to be covered in gore. It’s horrifying.”

Amie Parnes contributed.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Corker Donald Trump Hillary Clinton John Cornyn Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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