Republicans are divided about how Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE can dig himself out of the hole that his campaign is in, but they agree on one point: the first step is admitting he has a problem.
GOP insiders fear that Trump, whose yearlong run for the presidency has been fueled by sheer force of personality, has not grasped the depth of the challenges he now faces.
Specifically, they worry that his victory in the battle for the Republican nomination — which he achieved while defying conventional wisdom and the party establishment — has made him particularly disinclined to changing tactics.
But with some polls showing him down by double-digits against Democratic counterpart Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE, and surveys giving him historically high unfavorable ratings, the Republican Party is already sounding the alarms about November.
At a rally in Atlanta on Wednesday, Trump asserted that GOP leaders should just “be quiet. Don’t talk.”
It’s those kind of remarks that stoke anxiety among party strategists who are desperate to see Trump pivot to a general election approach.
Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been less critical of Trump than many in the party, said that the current state of the race calls for a “major recalibration.”
Steele added that, given that Trump made such a big deal of polls when they were more favorable to him, “he needs to pay attention to the polls and what the polls are saying about his campaign” now.
It’s not just Trump’s numbers in head-to-head match-ups with Clinton that are problematic. An ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this week found Trump was viewed unfavorably by 70 percent of the electorate. More troubling still, he was seen unfavorably by 94 percent of African-Americans, 89 percent of Hispanics and 77 percent of women.
“Nobody has ever gotten elected President of the United States with a 70 percent unfavorable rating,” Matthew Dowd, who served as chief strategist on former President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, told ABC’s “Good Morning, America” on Wednesday.
David Winston, a Republican pollster and consultant, said if Trump wants to have any chance at winning in November, he needs to take an unblinking look at the poll numbers.
“The first thing that the campaign has got to start addressing is that they are not simply dealing with unfavorables — they are dealing with unfavorables on a scale that we have never seen at the presidential level,” Winston said.
But the pollster added that there was hope for Trump, given that Clinton has the second-worst favorability ratings of the modern era.
Experts within the party have various prescriptions for what Trump ought to do, but insist he must take the medicine quickly. Clinton and her allies are already on the air in battleground states with TV ads intended to frame Trump negatively, and the Republican National Convention — one of his biggest chances make a positive impression on voters — is just a month away.
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak said that “there really is a kind of panic setting in” about Trump within the ranks. He suggested that these concerns were so acute that moves could be made even at this late stage to deny Trump the nomination.
Assuming that does not happen, however, Mackowiak said the convention would be an opportunity to both present Trump as a credible leader for the nation and to soften public perceptions of his boisterous personality.
“One of the big problems is that people don’t see him as a credible president of the United States,” he said. “The convention can go a long way to starting to change those minds. But I don’t think it can make that change permanent — that is going to come down to the presidential debates.”
The convention, he added, could showcase “the successes he’s had in his life: his business successes, the money he’s given to charities, the kind of father he has been.”
But Trump could improve his standing immediately, Steele suggested, if he began to focus more on issues and less on fights and feuds with other Republicans and members of the news media.
“Absolutely leave that stuff behind. No one wants to hear their presidential candidates fighting with people about things that are wholly irrelevant to the job of being president,” Steele said.
“At his core, there is a good message he can share on the economy; there’s a good message he can talk about on foreign policy. He can make the argument — so make the argument. Let’s not talk about things that are distracting people’s attention.”
Several strategists agreed that a strong choice of vice president could also help unite the party and prove to skeptical voters that Trump is a credible choice for the White House. More generally, they insist greater discipline about driving his chosen message of the day is a must.
But they were unanimous in viewing the current state of the campaign as imperiled.
Trump’s current polling deficit “can be overcome, but right now it is turning into a huge lift,” said Winston. “They are in a very difficult position, and they are putting themselves in a situation where they are going to have to not just do everything well — they are going to have to do everything perfectly.”