The was a transcript provided to me of the conference call that Donald Trump, and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, held with supporters last Sunday morning, and it included a slightly updated indictment of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. The promise by the two men to release this document meant there could be potential fireworks on Monday, but they, wisely, didn’t go that far.
But the 30-minute call did contain a clear message, one that has echoed throughout the campaign and is likely to continue in the run-up to the November election.
Trump’s supporters here in Michigan this weekend, and those back home at events here as well, have all been emphasizing the same themes. If Trump had been preparing for a pivot in the final weeks of the campaign, the tone is not one he wants to be playing up. (And at this point, it’s hard to see how he could.)
The operative line of attack from the Trump campaign has long been to make Clinton the villain and Republicans the good guys. But all the signs are that the Trump campaign, aided by Trump’s own allies on the right, will continue to do just that, despite a significant shift in tactics from Trump over the last few weeks.
I had reporters from Ohio on the call who hammered the White House over the Russia question, and the message coming through was the exact same. Lewandowski pledged to release a summary of an FBI report into Clinton’s email issue by Oct. 29.
And then he said the excerpt will contain a copy of the newly declassified FBI and Justice Department findings, a claim I was not sure anyone on the call believed to be accurate.
In other words, if you’re looking for progress, ignore the FBI bureau report from this summer.
On Oct. 26, the day after the FBI report is released, at an event in Springfield, Ohio, Trump will give a speech designed to go after the Democrats on Benghazi, something aides are framing as a new pivot.
“I expect at least that he is going to talk about Benghazi,” says Rick Tyler, a Texas-based Trump spokesman.
Trump, of course, has given a lead for a portion of Clinton’s national security credentials, and he has often dug in his heels, first asking for a private briefing with the FBI on the matter and then alleging a cover-up.
As campaigns go, this might be one of the more malleable and racy elements in the playbook. But for any vote-getting pitch, it has to play to a large and fractured population.
This pivot, up until this point, has produced no results.
For all the will and desire among Republicans to do something “different,” other than they have since the end of summer, they have failed to unite on a set of plays that could produce the kind of desired effect. And, in fact, they have only marginally shifted course, moving from absolutism on the email issue and tough talk on Clinton’s untruthfulness on foreign affairs, to a new and more pragmatic pivot toward substance and stability.
That pivot is not moving as quickly as they hope.