Donald Trump attempted to stop hemorrhaging support with an economic policy speech on Monday that contained a series of olive branches aimed at impressing Republican donors and leaders.
Though he still has a long way to go, the address was an important step toward reunifying a Republican Party fractured at the highest levels, a feat he has attempted during prior controversies, only to reverse progress by creating other self-inflicted wounds.
"I'm really heartened by it," said Brian Ballard, a former top Jeb Bush donor who is now Trump's finance chair in Florida. "Now we have a tax plan and an economic plan that we can get conservatives to rally behind and feel good about."
Ballard said the speech would ease donor concerns after "the petty give and take that we've had in the last couple weeks" between members of the party amid Trump's feud with the parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
Zack Roday, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said, "This plan has many similarities to the job-creating plan at the heart of House Republican's Better Way agenda." The two feuded last week as Trump temporarily held off on endorsing the Wisconsinite in his primary race.
Trump's move to heal the divisions in the party comes with 92 days until Election Day, and after a week of sniping with fellow Republicans. A new Monmouth poll published Monday found the Republican trailing Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton by 13 points among likely voters nationally, a stunning margin that could imperil GOP control of Congress as well as state and local candidates. A Washington Post-ABC News poll out Sunday showed him trailing Clinton by 8 points.
In his speech, Trump echoed rhetoric frequently used by GOP leaders in Congress.
"The Obama-Clinton agenda of tax, spend and regulate has created a silent nation of jobless Americans," Trump said, proposing to lower taxes rates and repeal business regulations. He used buzzwords like "the Obama-Clinton war on coal," "President Obama’s job-killing energy restrictions," proposing to "repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare" and inveighing against "the death tax." He also echoed former Republican rival Marco Rubio's rhetoric by comparing his "campaign of the future" to that of "a nominee from yesterday."
Though Trump reiterated his vow to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many Republicans support, he didn't mention other areas where he disagrees with the goals of Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, such as his promise not to cut Social Security benefits or to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, his emphasis on estate tax repeal drew intense excitement from the conservatives he was seeking to win over on Monday.
"Three cheers for getting rid of the death tax," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong wrote on Twitter during Trump's speech.
Ballard also welcomed Trump's proposal, calling a repeal of the estate tax "the linchpin of the conservative movement: they get you when you're earning your money and they get you when you die."
But in a sign of Trump's enduring woes with parts of the conservative movement, a little-known former House GOP policy aide named Evan McMullin announced Monday he's running as an independent candidate on a limited-government platform, saying that Trump "appeals to the worst fears of Americans at a time we need unity." And the New York Times reported Monday that 50 senior GOP national security officials signed a letter saying Trump "would be the most reckless president in American history" and "put at risk our country’s national security and well-being."
With the campaign's plans for the week dominated by rallies in battleground states that have not succeeded in preventing his poll numbers from dropping, the question remains: will this attempted turnaround work where others have failed?
His overtures didn't seem to sway his most ardent critics on the right, who want him to become more policy-focused and end the sort of rhetoric that has alienated large blocs of voters, including Hispanics, African-American and college-educated women.
"Trump's problem isn't policy, it's Trump," said Stuart Stevens, former chief strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. "It's like trying to listen to someone’s views on Law of the Sea Treaty while their hair is on fire. All you process is the fire."
"Until he addresses the fundamental flaws of his candidacy and recognize he has said un-American and disqualifying things, he can’t move forward," Stevens said. "Americans will forgive but you have to ask for forgiveness."
Anti-Trump Republican operative Rory Cooper also wasn't swayed. "We need to draw a distinction between Trump and conservatism," he tweeted after Trump's speech, signaling support for McMullin's decision to enter the race. "I'll welcome with open arms anyone aiming to do just that."