Worried GOP tells Trump: Get on message

Republicans worried that Donald Trump has squandered a critical stretch of the campaign are urging the candidate to return his focus to the issues that won him the Republican presidential nomination. 

Trump’s supporters say he too easily falls into traps set by Democrats and the media, and has allowed himself to be blown off course with fewer than 100 days to go before the election.

{mosads}There is still time to turn things around, they say, but the candidate must stay true to his message about economic anxiety among working-class people and rooting out government corruption driven by the influence of special interests if he’s going to reclaim momentum in the race.

“Hopefully, Donald Trump will soon recognize that if you take the bait every time, you’ll never have a chance to discuss the real issues,” Ben Carson, a former Republican presidential candidate who is now advising Trump, told The Hill.

“We have the upper hand on the economy, education .. and a whole host of things, there is no dearth of substantial issues to talk about,” Carson said. “There is no reason to engage with those who are trying to make this about something else. … You pivot back to what’s important, you don’t have to take the bait. Learning that is perhaps one of the most important things.”

Trump is enduring one of his roughest stretches of the election cycle. Republicans believe his wounds are self-inflicted.

The campaign has been embroiled in controversy after spending days publicly sparring with the Muslim parents of a slain U.S. soldier because of Trump’s insistence on hitting back at his detractors rather than letting criticism go. 

That fight earned him the rebuke of veterans groups and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill. It has renewed fears among Republicans up for election that Trump will lead them to electoral disaster in November. And it has given new fodder to critics who have called Trump erratic and unfit for office, as President Obama did on Tuesday. 

One Republican lawmaker announced on Tuesday he would vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing Trump’s remarks about the fallen soldier’s parents.

“Where do we draw the line?” asked retiring Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.).

The campaign this week sent an urgent email to its supporters on Capitol Hill instructing them to “pivot” to better explain Trump’s position on the matter, but the negative headlines continued to pile up as the controversy entered its fifth day.

Trump’s supporters say they are confident the episode has been overplayed by the media and won’t do lasting damage, as long as these kinds of detours are kept to a minimum going forward.

“The only lasting damage he did this week was the opportunity cost where he wasn’t talking about what he was supposed to be talking about every single day,” said Barry Bennett, Carson’s former campaign manager who has also advised the Trump campaign.

“There are only two possibilities,” Bennett said. “He’s either getting good advice and he’s ignoring it, or he’s not getting good advice. I don’t know which it is. But the bottom line is it’s one of those two.” 

Trump has been churning through advisers over the summer.

The campaign moved forward this week with the staff overhaul it began in late June, when it parted ways with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after a power struggle with current campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

On Monday, the campaign fired senior adviser Ed Brookover, another former Carson campaign manager, and Jimmy Stracner, a former Carson aide, in what campaign insiders described as the continued purge of those brought on during Lewandowski’s time in charge.

Other longtime aides have also been squeezed out as the campaign brings in new blood for the general election push.

Trump’s former state director in Iowa, Chuck Laudner, a highly respected operative in the state, has been replaced by Eric Branstad, the son of Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa).

The campaign also recently installed new directors or advisers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, all potential battlegrounds.

Aides in those states are busy hiring staff and opening new offices as they play catch-up against the Clinton campaign, which has long held a massive advantage in staffing and money.

Some advisers have hinted at new efforts to shore up Trump’s support among minority voters and women which will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

But Republicans say none of that will matter if the man at the top of the ticket doesn’t exhibit more discipline.

“Trump is at his best when he is attacking the system. He is at his worst when he is attacking specific people,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz told The Hill. “The last two weeks represent Trump at his best and his worst. If he wants to win this election, he will go back to attacking the system, and he will leave individual people alone.” 

Carson, who said he speaks with Trump regularly, says he has communicated to Trump about how he also struggled to stay on message during his own presidential campaign.

The retired neurosurgeon said he believes Trump has learned a lesson from the current controversy and won’t be so easily distracted going forward.

“I actually do believe that episode has been instructive for him, and I do believe you’ll see something a little different going forward,” Carson said. “The message is penetrating. It’s soaking through. He’s marinating in it.” 

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