Staff Shakeup Reveals Turmoil Inside Donald Trump's Campaign
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Donald Trump's time with evangelical leaders came a day after he fired his controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. But that is not stopping the panic among Republicans. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For weeks, Republican strategists like John Feehery have watched with dismay as Trump squandered one opportunity after another.
JOHN FEEHERY: A lot of people are concerned that, you know, he doesn't know what he's doing. I think the fact that he fired Corey Lewandowski is probably a good sign. Now the question is, can the campaign right itself quickly, and can we get this guy on message and start running a real campaign?
LIASSON: Feehery is not a never-Trumper. Neither is Tom Davis, former congressman and chairman of the party's congressional campaign committee.
TOM DAVIS: He's got to start raising money. He's got to start getting disciplined in what he says and not offending every group and speaking spontaneously. Presidential candidates can't do that. Hillary Clinton doesn't do that. This is the most undisciplined campaign that I have ever seen at this level. It's in a class by itself.
LIASSON: Yes, there are still Republicans with moral, ethical or ideological objections to Trump. A handful of Republican senators and governors are refusing to endorse him, and House Speaker Paul Ryan recently said Republicans should vote their conscience.
But most Republicans were ready to get on board even though they disagreed with Trump on blowing up trade deals, building a wall, banning Muslims or returning to the gold standard. Davis says Republicans were willing to put those issues, as big as they are, aside because the stakes are so high.
DAVIS: If it means control of the Supreme Court and, more importantly, the regulatory agencies, that's a huge price for a lot of the base Republican constituencies. So they will put up with a lot. But when you have a candidate that doesn't seem interested in winning, doesn't seem to have a clue as to how you win, then I think people become very disengaged.
LIASSON: That's a pretty damning thing to say about a candidate whose campaign message and personal brand are all about winning. At a rally in Atlanta last week, Trump made it clear what he thought about all this criticism.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DONALD TRUMP: Just please be quiet. Don't talk. Please be quiet. Just be quiet to the leaders because they have to get tougher. They have to get sharper. They have to get smarter. We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well.
LIASSON: Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who ran a Super PAC for Ted Cruz in the primaries, agrees with Trump on this.
KELLYANNE CONWAY: Some people sound like a bunch of big baby whiners. If you want to be helpful, you need to look no further than the professional and political left and the candidate Hillary Clinton. Do you want her brand of government-run healthcare? Do you want abortion on demand - anyone, anytime, anywhere? Do you want climate change to be said - as so many of the left do - as the most pressing national security issue of our time after we see clearly last week in Orlando what the most pressing national security issue of our time really is?
LIASSON: The desire to stop Hillary Clinton might in the end be enough to help Trump bring his party together. But not yet, says Republican strategist and former Kasich advisor Vin Weber.
VIN WEBER: The people that want us all to fall in line behind Donald Trump are making that argument. They start with the Supreme Court, and then they go on to a president who would sign a legislative agenda passed by a Republican Congress. And all that does matter to me. It matters as a great, great, great deal - a great deal.
But I have to weigh that against what it would mean to have a president who mouths things that appear to be racist and sexist and bigoted and who divides our country much more than it's even currently divided.
LIASSON: Weber is concerned about Trump's lack of political infrastructure. The Trump campaign only has 70 people on staff. Clinton has 700. Trump has aired no TV ads, and he doesn't have much of a field organization. But there's something else that worries Weber, who's run the policy teams for Republican presidential candidates since the mid-1980s.
WEBER: Near as I can tell, Trump has no policy operation whatsoever - not just foreign policy but economic policy, anything else. And I think that it creates a real problem in terms of how does he put together a government.
LIASSON: Trump himself said last night that it's time for a different kind of campaign. And today, for the first time, the Trump campaign did do two things it's never done before. It produced a stream of rapid response emails during Clinton's economic speech, and Trump sent out his very first email soliciting donations. In spite of all these problems and after weeks of self-inflicted wounds, Trump is still even with Clinton in at least the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Tomorrow, in a speech in New York, he will return to the subject Republicans say he has neglected for more than a month. Trump tweeted that he will be discussing the, quote, "failed policies and bad judgment of crooked Hillary Clinton." Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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