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Panic-Stricken Republican Party Looks To Get Trump Back On Track


It seems the leaders of the Republican Party are scrambling to get their presidential nominee back on track. Donald Trump has spent the past several days dealing with some controversy, and that's been followed by reports of a campaign in disarray and a party in panic. Though publicly Trump and his campaign insist everything is fine.


DONALD TRUMP: So I just want to tell you the campaign is doing really well. It's never been so well-united.

MCEVERS: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro's with us now. Hi there, Domenico. Hi there, Domenico.


MCEVERS: OK, so how bad are things right now for Donald Trump and the Republican Party?

MONTANARO: Well, let's just step back and think about what's happened over just the last hundred hours (laughter) or so.


MONTANARO: You had Donald Trump criticizing a family whose son had died as a soldier in Iraq after they had criticized him at the Democratic National Convention and then on several television programs. He said he wasn't quite ready to endorse Paul Ryan, who's speaker of the House, and John McCain after they had endorsed him and sort of stuck by him even though they had criticized his comments about that family.

You had this letter that Donald Trump said the NFL wrote to him about the fall debates and the timing of those debates being - conflicting with the NFL season.

And you even had Donald Trump making fun of fire marshals and a baby - so pretty safe to say that Donald Trump has gotten off on the wrong foot after the convention, and it's been evidence by a slip in the polls.

MCEVERS: As I said, there are reports flying around also about all sorts of chaos behind the scenes, you know? Inside the campaign, there's talk of an intervention, talk of Republican leaders looking into options for replacing Trump on the ticket. How real is any of that?

MONTANARO: Well, there's definitely been a lot of hand-wringing within the Republican National Committee. This seems to go on once every couple of weeks. You've had Reince Priebus play something of a translator with Trump. Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Convention - meets with Trump on a regular basis, talks with him on a regular basis, trying to kind of contain him and coach him on how to respond to political attacks. This is certainly not what the campaign or the Republican National Committee would have wanted.

MCEVERS: Trump's tension with House Speaker Paul Ryan reached a new level this week. Also Trump said yesterday he's not ready to endorse Ryan in his primary next week in Wisconsin. Then Trump's running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, had a different take when he talked to Fox News today. Let's hear that.


MIKE PENCE: I talked to Donald Trump this morning about my support for Paul Ryan and our longtime friendship. He strongly encouraged me to endorse Paul Ryan in next Tuesday's primary, and I'm pleased to do it.

MCEVERS: So Domenico, I mean what do you make of Trump and Pence giving these different messages on this issue here?

MONTANARO: Well, it's certainly like they're running two very different campaigns, at least...


MONTANARO: ...Two very different kinds of messages. You've seen Mike Pence do this before. He played a little bit of cleanup after the Khan family first criticized Trump. And Trump was criticized for his response to the Khans. Pence just said, you know, this family gets to say what they want but then tried to move on to how Trump wants to fight against ISIS.

You know, really Pence was a short-term unity pick. He wasn't really someone Trump was close to. And we should note that two of people who were on Donald Trump's shortlist to be vice president were Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, and both have also criticized Trump's response to a lot of these things.

Gingrich in The Washington Post today described the race as between two people who are unacceptable. He said that Trump is helping Hillary Clinton win by proving he's more unacceptable than she is.

MCEVERS: Talking about Hillary Clinton, I mean she had some bad news this week also. I seems like maybe a lot of that was overshadowed by Trump. But talk us through some of that.

MONTANARO: Oh, certainly. I mean, you know, Hillary Clinton on Sunday had said that the FBI director, James Comey, had said that she had been truthful when it comes to her private email server. That wasn't true. There was small GDP growth - growth domestic product. And then there was this controversy with this exchange of money that the United States made with Iran with the release of hostages. You know, this is something that the Trump campaign has been talking about all week, trying to change the narrative, but it's all been overshadowed.

MCEVERS: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thank you very much.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.