While Trump gambles, Clinton plays it safe

While Trump gambles, Clinton plays it safe
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE’s surprise trip to Mexico shows the Republican presidential nominee is willing to roll the dice and take a risk to change the narrative and build some momentum. 

It highlights that the presidential campaign is turning into a fight between an unconventional candidate who likes to take risks and a candidate who runs her campaign by the book, comfortable with offering few, if any, surprises.

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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters The Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Rosenstein says he authorized release of Strzok-Page texts MORE, the Democratic nominee, has conducted her campaign much like the one she ran in her 2008 primary — only this time, it’s been working.

She has rarely appeared on the campaign trail in the past few weeks, instead fundraising behind the scenes and ceding Trump the stage in the hopes he’d slip up.  

Indeed, the trip to Mexico was a definite gamble.

Trump didn't know exactly what would happen in Mexico City, where he was essentially walking into enemy territory after months of insisting Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall and making controversial comments about Mexicans in the U.S. illegally. 

But the event largely paid off for Trump, who stuck to his script and won credit for looking presidential.

Republicans say Trump needs to take chances like these to win the White House and force Clinton to react to him. But they say he must do so in an ordered fashion that minimizes mistakes and keeps him on message.  

"The visit to Mexico is the type of out-of-box thinking that the Trump campaign must continue to figure out in order to help himself gain traction in the polls by looking presidential,” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said. 

“Trump must continue to walk a high-profile tightrope without a political safety net by using things like the Mexico visit to assure voters that he’s presidential material.” 

He walked that tightrope in Mexico.  

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is unpopular in his own country and had little incentive not to turn Trump into a political punching bag. The Mexican people have bristled at Trump’s heated rhetoric throughout his campaign, and Trump has little experience on the world stage.

Even more, the event came together in just a few days, instead of the typical weeks it takes campaigns to plan logistics, security and a cogent speech.   

But none of the doom-and-gloom predictions from pundits in the hours ahead of the trip came to bear — Trump delivered a muted yet on-message speech that allowed him to stand shoulder to shoulder with a world leader.  

“He took a risk, and he pulled it off. Look, the big negative about Trump, the thing that the Clinton campaign plays on, is the fact that it's hard to imagine him as president,” GOP commentator Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News.  

“He not only held his own — I think, in some ways, he sort of dominated.” 

But like all gambles, this one has potential dangers. 

It’s unclear whether the goodwill from Trump’s Mexico visit will be buried by what came next: Peña Nieto’s claim that Trump lied about whether they had talked about the border wall and Trump’s hard-line speech in Arizona in which he cast aside moderates and Hispanic conservatives in order to bear hug his base, a contrast to the moderate tone he took in Mexico. 

“If he had gone home from Mexico, yesterday would have been a home run,” GOP strategist and Hill contributor Matt Mackowiak said, arguing that the Arizona speech cut into some of the traction he won earlier that day.  

“But the question is, did he gain any support in the white working class, since he probably lost whatever little support he had with Hispanics and took a few states off the board,” he added.  

Trump’s campaign is no stranger to risks — not sticking to what's expected of a presidential candidate is part of his outsider appeal. But not all have ended well. 

He skipped the final debate before Iowa’s Republican caucuses, chose to cede control of his own ground game to the party and briefly refused to endorse House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record The TRUST Act is a plot to gut Social Security behind closed doors MORE (R-Wis.) for reelection.  

Trump lost Iowa, continues to be dogged by questions about his commitment to the ground game and drew the ire of Republicans by not immediately backing Ryan.

But the biggest risk Trump took this cycle — jumping into the race as political neophyte against some of the party’s top recruits — paid off.   

“People tend to think of the presidential campaign as just showing up in venue A, B or C and giving a speech,” said Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan White House official and Trump supporter.  

“Trump doesn’t view life that way, he doesn’t view the campaign that way — he views it as a place to take action.”  

Now that he’s brought on Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as campaign CEO, Trump is back to having a top hand who subscribes to the “Let Trump be Trump” mantra.  

“You can’t change a candidate, you have to understand what his strengths are,” said one source close to the campaign.  

“Steve Bannon fully understands what Donald Trump’s strengths are—he’s willing to do and say things others aren’t willing to do because he appeals directly to the American people.”  

But the stakes are high, down to just a little more than two months before Election Day.  

Trump has trailed in almost every national poll over the past month, with Clinton ahead in most swing states too. As recently as Monday, according to The New York Times, Eric Trump, the candidate’s son, received a “grim prognosis" from the Republican National Committee, warning that his path to victory is waning.  

Polls this week show he has begun to close the gap, and the pro-risk strategy could either help Trump close it even more or bury him even further. 

While the slow drip of emails released from Clinton's private server are completely out of her control, the Democrat's campaign has gone to great lengths to minimize any other surprises on the trail. Her speeches stick meticulously to message, and each of her rallies aimed at building support with voters in certain key areas or groups. 

Trump, on the other hand, has been defined by his free-wheeling nature, regularly deviating from script and holding rallies in uncompetitive states like Connecticut and Mississippi. 

There have been fewer mistakes by Trump under new management, but every unconventional move he makes only compounds the risk.  

“It’s not unlike a football team down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, they will stop running the ball and start throwing the deep pass,” Mackowiak said.  

“But when you throw the ball, only three things can happen. And two of them are bad.”