Donald Trump is attempting to regain his focus.
Following Monday night's much-criticized presidential debate performance against Hillary Clinton, Trump has returned to the campaign trail intent on honing his message on what he perceives to be his rival's weaknesses. On Wednesday, at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he rarely strayed from what proved to be an anti-Clinton rant.
He drilled into Clinton on familiar topics—her deletion of government e-mails from a private server when she served as secretary of state, the telegraphed withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq—and offered fresh attacks on her health and trustworthiness. To date, it was one of his lengthiest and most focussed attacks of the general election against Clinton, who remains ahead of him in national polling and in several important battleground states.
“You see all the days off that Hillary takes? Day off, day off, day off. All those day offs and then she can’t even make it to her car. Isn’t it tough?” Trump said in Iowa, a crucial swing state where early voting begins on Thursday. “All those day offs, right? Boom. Ever see her chart? She won’t be campaigning today. She won’t be campaigning today. She is day in, day out and I’m campaigning, I’m saying what’s going on?”
Clinton did campaign on Wednesday, holding a rally in Durham, New Hampshire, with former rival Bernie Sanders that focused on the need to make college tuition-free.
"I am asking you here today not only to vote for Secretary Clinton but to work hard to get your uncles and your aunts, to get your friends to vote," Sanders said at the event. "It is imperative that we elect Hillary Clinton as our next president."
Trump’s strategists had originally instructed Trump and his surrogates to refrain from trying to capitalize on Clinton’s caught-on-video health scare on Sept. 11, when she became overheated and dehydrated and had to leave a memorial service early. Her aides later admitted she’d been diagnosed with pneumonia, and Clinton took three days off the campaign trail. But Republicans in August accused Clinton of going on “vacation” this summer, dedicating time to private fundraisers.
On Wednesday, Trump pushed back on the conclusion of many political observers that Clinton delivered the stronger performance in the first debate of the general election. “You hear how well she did in the debate. I don’t think she did so well in the debate at all,” he said.
While Trump has repeatedly cited unscientific, online polls taken immediately following the debate that declared him the winner, an appeal sent to supporters on Wednesday struck a notably different tone.
"I need your immediate feedback from the first debate in order to win the second one," the candidate said in a mass e-mail. A link included in the message led to an online survey of rhetorical questions about his performance in the first debate.
"Should Trump have brought up Hillary’s failure in Benghazi as a disqualification for the presidency?" one question stated.
Roundly criticized as being unprepared for the first face-off with Clinton, Trump told supporters in his e-mail that "debate preparation is already underway, so you’ll need to get your input in immediately."
Reading from a teleprompter at his Iowa rally, Trump hit Clinton on many of the 30 questions he put to supporters in his survey.
He instructed voters to “follow the money” and look at the paid speeches Clinton gave to private companies. “Hillary Clinton has received $100 million in contributions from Wall Street and the hedge funds. She received $4.1 million in speaking fees from financial firms,” he said. “I’d like to see what she said. Where are the papers. Bernie was asking for the papers but Bernie gave up.”
Trump also lit into Clinton’s years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, saying she put the office “up for sale.”
“If she ever got the chance she would put the Oval Office up for sale, too.”
At one point, Trump interrupted himself to express his support for corn-based fuel, a product that helps drive Iowa’s agriculture-based economy. “By the way ethanol, we like ethanol,” he said, before he resumed bashing Clinton for pandering to special interests.
“The special interests who want open borders are donating to Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Later, he touched on another topic of interest to Iowans who own family farms—the estate tax. Clinton last week unveiled a proposal to tax the wealthiest estates at 65 percent. The current top rate is 40 percent. “Lots of luck having your kids hold onto your farms—it’s not going to happen,” he said.
But Trump gave Clinton a number of openings with his debate performance, and she has hammered him over his assertion Monday that not paying federal income tax "makes me smart."
"He actually bragged about gaming the system to get out of paying his fair share of taxes," Clinton told supporters Tuesday in Raleigh, North Carolina. "In fact, I think there's a strong probability he hasn't paid federal taxes a lot of years."
—With assistance from David Knowles