By all accounts, Republican 2016 presidential front-runner Donald Trump has had a bad week. This is hardly the norm, for the billionaire businessman and reality television star who prides himself on being a winner.
On Tuesday March 29, his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was arrested for allegedly manhandling former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields on March 8. Trump had previously supported Lewandowski’s claims that Fields was “delusional” and that he (Lewandowski) “never touched her”. However, the video evidence shows that Lewandowski did indeed grab Fields’s arm. There are some that argue that Lewandowski was just doing his job which inherently includes physically protecting Trump from potential harm at venues which are crawling with people. Furthermore, Fields had something in her hand and she was uncomfortably close to Candidate Trump. That being said, the arrest of Lewandowski, the walking back of contradictory comments was an ugliness that Trump 2016 didn’t need.
Trump’s week only got worse on Wednesday March 30 when he participated in a televised town hall with MSNBC reporter Chris Matthews where the candidate’s response to a question about abortion created a media brouhaha that Trump and his spokespeople had to walk back. After describing a hypothetical scenario where abortion was illegal, Matthews pushed Trump to provide a yes or no answer to the question “should abortion be punished?” Trump responded by saying, “There has to be some form of punishment. “ Matthews asked “For the woman?” and Trump responded “yes”. Within hours Trump and his team were spinning their way out of this miss-speak. Trump quickly issued a new statement where he clarified his earlier remarks saying, “If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.” Trump further commented “The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.” However, the damage was already done with Trump being attacked from both the left and the right for the perception that he wants “to punish women who have abortions.”
The Trump campaign is clearly experiencing the damage of having to “restate” two high profile communications in one week. While the level and durability of the damage is still to be determined, Trump’s detractors obviously think his campaign is over. If you were to survey the Cruz or Kasich campaigns or the political pundits, they would tell you that Trump has made irrevocable mistakes this week which he will never be able to correct and that he should drop out of the race now. And of course, it does not help matters that a poll released on Wednesday from Marquette University Law School has Trump in the upcoming April 5 Wisconsin primary polling at 30%, ten points behind Ted Cruz at 40%. Cruz’s support in the Badger State which represents 42 delegates was buoyed this week by an endorsement from Wisconsin Governor and former GOP 2016 candidate Scott Walker.
So why is the death knell already ringing for the Trump campaign? The Republican establishment and the “anyone but Trump” movement finally sees a chink in the armor which they think they can exploit. Yet the exploitation exercise will be just that an exercise. Cruz still is way behind Trump in delegates. Even if he takes Wisconsin on April 5, he is not going to fare well in the upcoming primaries including the coveted New York State winner-take-all race on April 19 where Trump is forecast to walk away with the 95 delegates. The April 26 primaries which include the northeastern states of Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island also does not look promising for Cruz as the evangelical presence is not that strong in these states. Furthermore, three of the five states Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania are winner take all states which are likely to have checked box “Trump”.
So while everyone is making a lot of hay about the mistakes in the Trump campaign, the Trump team is focusing on its next steps which include securing even more support in the critical large states of New York and California The Trump campaign just announced Representative Duncan Hunter of California and Representative Chris Collins of New York as his picks to lead campaign outreach efforts to members of Congress. As they say, if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. Trump’s new talking point is that he has the support of representatives Hunter and Collins who he describes as “conservative stalwarts”. The Trump campaign also announced that it will be opening a Washington office to coordinate convention and delegate operations and work with Congress and the Republican National Committee. Said another way, once again the reports of the Trump demise are premature.