Trump seeks to capitalize on Clinton's troubles

Trump seeks to capitalize on Clinton's troubles
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Republicans have plenty of advice for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE about how he should best capitalize as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE suffers one of her worst stretches of the general election campaign.

Clinton has been laid low by a bout of pneumonia dramatically revealed by video footage of her being helped into a van in a state of near-collapse in New York City on Sunday. The Democratic presidential nominee is off the campaign trail until Thursday to recuperate.

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Before that drama erupted, Clinton had been under fire for describing half of her Republican opponent’s supporters as belonging to a “basket of deplorables.” 

Clinton has also seen polls narrow significantly, with her lead in national averages down to less than 3 points from its recent peak at around 8 points.

GOP strategists argue that the “deplorables” comment is much more fertile ground for Trump than Clinton’s health, which is difficult for an opponent to talk about directly without risking a backlash.

The fact that Trump is out on the campaign trail while his opponent has to rest is an important advantage in and of itself, they add. Some suggest that part of the reason the polls started to close last month was because of Clinton’s relatively low profile on the trail — she spent a lot of time at private fundraising events — and they are cautiously optimistic that the GOP nominee can now reel in the rest of the former secretary of State’s lead.

“One of the things that allowed him to come back and close that convention bounce [for Clinton] was the fact that she was out in Hollywood and other places at fundraisers,” said Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist who supports Trump but is not affiliated with his campaign. “He has had a good six weeks here, and it looks like she is not going to be able to be campaigning vigorously. It seems like her pace is not his pace.”

Democrats raise several counter-arguments. On Tuesday, President Obama hit the campaign trail for Clinton with a rally in Philadelphia, and cable networks gave primacy to him in their coverage as a Trump event was beginning in Iowa around the same time. Events headlined by Clinton often struggle to get equivalent media attention.

Obama is the biggest name on the roster of A-list surrogates upon whom Clinton can call, a list that also features former President Clinton and current first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObamas are 'most admired' man and woman in world: poll John Legend: Americans may have to think about leaving country if Trump reelected Black stars reimagine 'Friends' to get out the vote MORE, as well as Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTrump plans to pick Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg on court Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials MORE. Trump has few surrogates of similar wattage.

Clinton’s absence from campaigning will be brief, and there are as yet no polls that indicate how her stumble in New York has played with the electorate.

Democrats also note that Trump himself has not been especially transparent about his health, releasing only a brief letter from a physician that was widely derided for its extravagant turns of phrase. On Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway cast doubt on whether Trump would produce much more information, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “I don’t know why we need such extensive medical reporting when we all have a right to privacy.”

Still, Republicans who have previously been frustrated by Trump’s apparent inability to show restraint are encouraged by his conduct since Clinton fell ill. He has avoided making any incendiary comments on the matter, instead focusing on the “basket of deplorables” remark.

“While my opponent slams you as deplorable and irredeemable, I call you hard-working American patriots who love your country,” Trump told a rally in North Carolina on Monday. His campaign also released an ad picking up on Clinton’s comment. The ad is being included in existing Trump ad buys in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

GOP strategist and Hill contributor Matt Mackowiak said Clinton’s remark “does do lasting damage and is one we’re going to see referenced again and again. … No person believes they are deplorable, and I’m sure that more than half of Trump’s supporters think she called them deplorable. When you make a blanket statement about a large group of people, you are in dangerous territory.”

The Trump campaign’s latest moves are widely seen as part of a more disciplined approach since Conway became campaign manager about a month ago, after Paul Manafort was ousted as campaign chairman.

There are other signs of a more traditional approach, as well, such as the visit by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Pence vows for law and order everywhere Trump met with chants of protest as he pays respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE, to party colleagues on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. 

The images of Pence with GOP leaders such as Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 At indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates MORE (Wis.), as well as the warm words Ryan used, suggested a party that was at least able to present a unified face in support of Trump’s candidacy.

GOP strategists are now looking forward to the presidential debates with far more confidence than they were just a few weeks ago. If Trump can enter debate season in a near dead heat with Clinton, they assert, he can yet win this year’s turbulent race.

“If he comes out of those debates not losing who he is, but also comes off as very presidential, people will start looking at him as a president. That is all he needs to do,” said Mueller. “It is not an easy thing, but that’s what he needs to do.”