As Hillary Clinton’s all-star surrogate operation continued working to energize black voters, Donald Trump called in his own cavalry on Thursday, dispatching his wife, Melania, for her first campaign trail solo while his highest-profile surrogates fanned out across the battleground map.
As Trump’s prospects have shown new signs of life in the past week, his surrogates are making an all-out push to get him across the finish line, though the effort is hampered by divisions in the Republican Party — whose luminaries like Paul Ryan, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney will not stump for their nominee — and the organizational wherewithal to smoothly project a unified message across the map.
Trump continued to lean heavily on his family, with Donald Jr. campaigning in Colorado and Nevada, Ivanka in Michigan and New Hampshire, Eric in Wisconsin, and Eric’s wife, Lara, in Ohio. And he deployed his own party luminaries with, Rudy Giuliani in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Newt Gingrich in Nevada, and Ben Carson in Iowa.
And all the moving parts sounded some dissonant notes.
Ted Cruz appeared with Mike Pence at a campaign stop in Iowa, but the Texas senator, whose wife and father were the targets of incendiary personal attacks by Trump earlier this year, conspicuously avoided mentioning his party’s nominee by name. “We’re going to keep Republican control of the Senate and we’re going to defeat Hillary Clinton in this presidential election,” Cruz said.
Speaking in suburban Philadelphia, where Trump desperately needs to attract college-educated Republicans, his wife offered herself as a character witness for Trump and touting his “deep love and respect for this country.”
But curiously, parts of the speech sounded like rebukes of her own husband’s campaign. “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough,” Melania Trump warned, in contradiction to her husband’s own message. Donald Trump, who authored a book titled, “Time to Get Tough,” had praised the late Gen. George Patton as “one of the roughest guys,” and often laments that “mean” people like Patton cannot get ahead in today’s America.
Melania Trump said in her speech that children and teens “are hurt when they are made fun of, or made to feel less, in looks or intelligence.” Her husband, meanwhile, has said that Carly Fiorina does not have the “face” of a person that should be president; said Clinton does not have a “presidential look”; tweeted side-by-side photos of his wife and Cruz’s to imply that his wife is beautiful and Cruz’s is not; called Megyn Kelly “dopey” and “very bad at math”; and said conservative commentator Mary Katharine Ham “isn’t smart enough to know what’s going on at the border,” among a litany of other schoolyard insults.
The speech focused especially on anonymous bullying on social media, though a hallmark of this campaign has been the threats and insults lodged by anonymous Twitter users at people perceived to be critics of the businessman, who has often retweeted those anonymous insults — aimed at people like Kelly and Heidi Cruz — broadcasting them to millions of people.
In addition to his stumping in Wisconsin, Trump’s second-oldest son, Eric, told a Denver radio host the Louisiana Senate candidate David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, deserves to die. “The guy does deserve a bullet,” he said. “I mean, these aren’t good people. These are horrible people. In fact, I commend my father. My father’s the first Republican who’s gone out and said, ‘Listen, what’s happened to the African-American community is horrible and I’m going to take care of it.'”
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to harness their own more experienced surrogate operation to try to gin up enthusiasm from black voters, who, without Barack Obama on the ballot, appear to be underperforming in places in early voting.
Bill Clinton made an unannounced stop to privately meet with black ministers and local leaders in Detroit on Wednesday night. On Thursday, President Obama traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, and tied Trump to the KKK. “If you accept the support of Klan sympathizers before you’re in office,” he said, “You’ll accept their support while in office.”
Clinton herself traveled Thursday for the first time to eastern North Carolina, a region whose black voters were instrumental to Obama’s 2008 win, a trip that Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield has been lobbying the campaign to make.
At a rally in Winterville, she raised the prospect that Trump could take over the Federal Housing Administration and called him, “someone who thinks the lives of black people is all crimes and poverty and despair.”
“He has no idea — none — of the strength of the black church, the vibrancy of black-owned business, the excellence of historically black colleges and universities,” she said, embarking on a riff that included a description of his treatment of the Central Park Five.
“He has spent this whole campaign offering a dog whistle to his supporters,” she continued. “Just a few days ago — I want you to hear this because this has never happened to the nominee of a major party — just a few days ago Donald Trump was endorsed by the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The Clinton campaign has rolled out a series of ads aimed at minority voters this week, and that focus will continue in the coming days, culminating with an election eve rally on Monday in Philadelphia, featuring both Clintons and both Obamas.
For his part, Trump hit Jacksonville, Florida, and Pennsylvania on Thursday, before ending the day with two rallies in North Carolina, a state where his ally retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, also campaigned.
Trump, who has tried hard to stay on message and to avoid unforced errors in the final days, took the stage triumphantly touting polls showing him pulling ahead in swing states beyond Iowa and Ohio, mentioning new surveys showing him leading in North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.
“We’re leading all over the place,” he said. “It’s a great honor.”
For a second time during his campaign, Trump began his rally at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center in Concord, North Carolina, on the outskirts of Charlotte without his traveling press corps, which was stuck in traffic getting to the event. Unlike the first time, Trump did not gloat about ditching the media he maligns almost daily.
“These are the most dishonest people,” Trump told supporters later, moments after the press corps arrived. “They have very low ratings right now. Hopefully I helped with that.”
He also praised his wife, Melania, for her remarks in Pennsylania earlier Thursday, noting that “it takes a lot of courage” for her to speak up.
And he slammed Clinton, again blurring reality in characterizing the FBI’s lingering investigation of her email server. He referred to the “65,000 emails” that were found on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s server, insinuating that those emails were sent by Clinton although the FBI has given no indication that that is the case. And he accused the Department of Justice of “trying to protect” Clinton and “interfering” with the FBI’s investigation.
“She has no right to be running, you know that,” Trump said.
Delivering the applause lines that have long energized his most ardent backers but limited his ability to broaden his support, Trump promised to deport Muslim immigrants “the hell out of the country” and to build his border wall and make Mexico pay for it, even vowing to punish Mexico for trying not to.
“The harder they fight,” he said, “the taller it gets.”
Gabriel Debenedetti, Shane Goldmacher and Eli Stokols contributed to this report.
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