Donald Trump's campaign is trying mightily to turn around a rough week by dispatching his running mate to fix his most pressing problem while aides circled the wagons against an onslaught of criticism.
After Trump pointedly refused to back House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence issued his own endorsement of Ryan on Fox News. Trump's advisers, meanwhile, tried to change an increasingly negative campaign narrative powered by sliding poll numbers and several controversies by pointing to the campaign's $80 million fundraising haul.
During Trump's first campaign rally on Wednesday, the candidate managed to stay relatively on message, opening his remarks with strong condemnation of a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration's airlift of $400 million to Iran coincided with the release of four detained Americans.
Yet Trump, unprompted, also revived old controversies, claiming that he had never implied that he referenced Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle and also that he never meant to mock a disabled reporter's gestures. Both incidents happened last year.
Trump also plans to deliver a major economic policy speech on Monday in Detroit, a campaign aide said. The Detroit Economic Club is hosting the event at an undisclosed venue. The club hosts about 35 events a year and customarily invites presidential contenders. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush were guests of the club during the GOP primary.
It’s not the first time the campaign has used that platform to attempt to change the subject. In June, when Trump was bogged down in criticism about his remarks about a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry, his weak fundraising numbers, and his reaction to the mass slaying in Orlando, the campaign announced he’d give a major speech on Clinton. Trump also scheduled a "major Clinton speech" for July 8 but didn't deliver it due to the shootings in Dallas.
On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus planned to confront Trump about the campaign's recent skid, along with Trump's adult children. NBC News didn’t identify its sources.
Asked point blank by Bloomberg Politics whether there was any truth to the report, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort answered, "No."
Trump's most ardent surrogates—his sons Don Jr., 38, and Eric, 33—are scheduled to attend a hunting trip fundraiser to raise money for the foundation of Charles and Jeremiah Woods, the father and brother of Tyrone Woods, who was killed in Benghazi, according to a senior campaign source.
‘‘The candidate is in control of his campaign,” Manafort said separately on Fox News. “We are organized” and “in very good shape."
Priebus is furious, said a person in the party after Trump’s decision Tuesday to withhold his endorsement of Ryan ahead of the House speaker’s Aug. 9 primary. In language that mirrored Ryan’s when he withheld his own support from Trump after the billionaire clinched the presidential nomination this spring, Trump also said he wasn’t ready to back embattled Republican Senators John McCain or Kelly Ayotte.
Priebus is also trying to counsel the nominee on what his priorities should be, aides said.
“I think he’s trying to get things back on focus—there are 98 days to go and she’s incredibly unpopular and disliked and we need to keep things focused,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said.
The Trump campaign continued to push back against other unconfirmed media reports that its operation was in turmoil.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Twitter called speculation about Trump dropping out of the race “wishful thinking.”
Two Republican campaign operatives said Wednesday that their internal polling shows little erosion of support for their party's congressional candidates amid all the Trump controversies. The operatives said that the party understands that it's stuck with Trump at the top of the ticket and that everyone else is along for the ride.
The biggest tactical frustration, the operatives said, is that Trump's antics keep overshadowing the party's efforts to target Hillary Clinton, noting some recent allegations regarding the Clinton Foundation were completely lost amid the other Trump news.
For now, Republican congressional campaigns are hoping that Trump's brand is unique enough that voters won't blame Republicans such as Ayotte for his utterances. One thing that is helping them is that most of Trump's current controversies surround his personality, rather than his policies—making it easier for other Republicans to separate themselves from the real-estate developer and TV personality.
Another key factor: Clinton remains very unpopular, which could limit the damage to congressional candidates.
Trump’s campaign on Wednesday announced the results of his July fundraising ahead of the Aug. 20 deadline to report the numbers to the Federal Election Commission.
Trump raised $80 million for his campaign and party entities last month, the campaign said. Trump now has $37 million in the bank, and his joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party has an equal amount of cash on hand, according to the statement, which didn’t specify how much of the total was specifically for the campaign.
Trump’s national finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, said the fundraising showed the breadth of support for Trump among average voters.
“The majority of this is ground support,” Mnuchin said on Bloomberg TV. “This just goes to show you how much support there is for Donald Trump from the ground.”
—With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.