Karl Rove: Can Trump stop the slide while Clinton coasts?


Every Monday, Fox News contributor Karl Rove wraps up the last week in politics and offers an inside look at the week ahead.

Last week’s presidential campaign began with a bang, then went as simple as A–B–C: The bang was the firing of Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, allegedly at the urging of The Donald’s children. The reasons offered ranged from Lewandowski’s abrasive manner, to the internecine warfare between him and the campaign’s chairman, Paul Manafort, to the absence of a comprehensive plan. It may have been all of the above.

How much one man’s dismissal will change things materially remains to be seen. These problems are often an expression of the candidate, as well as those around him.

Still, Lewandowski expressed an admirable loyalty after his abrupt firing, saying it was a privilege to have helped Trump from within his campaign and that it would continue to be such to help on the outside.

A is for Attacks: In an Ohio speech Tuesday, Hillary Clinton went after Trump’s business background, trying to turn what he believes is a strength into a weakness. She focused on his bankruptcies, unpaid vendors and reliance on debt financing, “using other people’s money.”

Previously, Trump had generally ignored her attacks and sometimes dismissed them as “pathetic.” This time, he was smart to quickly seize upon her general topic – the economy – and volley back, saying in a video that Clinton and President Obama have doubled the national debt.

Saying she represented more of the same was the right response, but more is needed. Trump could have made the balance of the week a series of attacks, tying Clinton to Obama and saying she was status quo. It would have been easy: Her speech and another on Thursday focused on infrastructure and clean energy jobs. Before departing for Scotland to promote his Turnberry golf course, Trump could have had three or four fun-filled days attacking Obama’s failed stimulus and the billions of taxpayer dollars squandered on Solyndra. He can’t let too many similar opportunities to regain the initiative pass with adequate but insufficient responses.

B is for Brexit: The decision by U.K. voters to leave the European Union puts the spotlight on Trump and his nationalist, anti-establishment message. A Daily Mail headline described the 52 to 48 percent vote as “the day the quiet people of Britain rose up against an arrogant, out-of-touch political class and a contemptuous Brussels elite.” Substitute “America” for “Britain” and “Washington” for “Brussels” and you’ve got what Trumpistas hope will be November’s headline.

As in Britain, there is a concern among many Americans that unrestrained illegal immigration is rapidly and permanently transforming the U.S. And the hostility of Republicans and many independents to Obama’s aggressive agenda – ObamaCare, the stimulus, the burgeoning debt, executive overreach and anti-business measures – make parallels plausible.

Obama’s intervention in the Brexit vote – telling Brits their country would go to the end of the line for trade agreements with the U.S. if they left the EU – played a role in rallying sentiment for leaving. No one likes to be lectured by an arrogant friend.

C is for Commercials: All was not happy for Team Trump this week, however. Priorities USA, Clinton’s super PAC, put up a new digital ad, backed by a $500,000 buy, that is aimed at millennials and features a Las Vegas teen suffering from a rare spinal cancer. He raps Trump for ridiculing disabled Americans, saying, “I don't want a president who makes fun of me. I want a president who inspires me.” The ad plays off Trump’s comments at a South Carolina rally where he mocked a disabled New York Times reporter.

This is the second such ad Priorities USA is running in battleground states, part of $112 million in TV and digital ad buys the group has placed or run since it began its advertising May 17.

The two campaigns are making hugely different bets on how to win. Team Clinton believes spot TV and digital ads can make the difference in battleground states. Team Trump, at least so far, is betting they won’t. The election could hinge on who is right.

This week: This is the final week before the Fourth of July holiday, during which campaigning tends to drop from sight. It will be interesting to see if the Clinton and Trump operations move to dominate the coverage this week. Clinton can coast – she’s leading in most polls – while Trump needs to rejigger the race. He can do so by using the Brexit vote to draw attention to the need for change. But while Team Clinton has shown discipline and focus in pulling off such maneuvers, Team Trump has not.

VP: The candidates will spend an increasing amount of time considering their vice presidential running mates. Clinton’s vetting process has been underway for some time, Trump’s for a shorter period, but with the Republican National Convention starting July 18 and the Democratic Convention a week later, the New York hotelier might make his pick first. In his new role as a CNN commentator, Lewandowski said Trump is down to four “household names.”

Vice presidential picks generally have only a minor impact in their home states and little direct electoral effect outside them. But choosing a running mate is a candidate’s first “presidential” decision and influences, for good or ill, perceptions of whether the top dog has what it takes to do the job.

Can Trump stop the slide? This week’s national polls provided little good news for the presumptive Republican nominee. On Sunday, the RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys gave Clinton a 6.7 percent lead, 46.1% to 39.4%, up slightly from the previous Sunday, when she led by 5.8 percent, 44.9% to Trump’s 39.1%.

Trump continued to be in worse shape this week than he was in the same polls previously. This week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had the race at 46% Clinton, 41% Trump; in mid-May it had Clinton ahead 46% to 43%. The ABC/Washington Post survey put the contest at 51% Clinton, 39% Trump; the New York businessman had led the former secretary of state in last month’s poll, 46% to 44%. And Reuters/Ipsos set the contest at 44% Clinton, 34% Trump, up from 42% Clinton, 34% Trump at the start of June.

Trump’s support among Republicans has slipped, and while he often led among independents in mid- to late-May, Clinton is now ahead of him among this key voting bloc.

Still, the desire of the American people for change remains strong, and Hillary Clinton remains the dreadful candidate and unappealing personality she was before (that’s why she’s rarely above 50 percent). The FBI primary is still underway: It wasn’t a good sign that Clinton’s private email server manager, Brian Pagliano, asserted his Fifth Amendment rights over 125 times during a court appearance last week in a civil case, and that Clinton’s campaign was forced to admit she had failed to hand over her email exchanges with Pagliano when she supposedly provided the State Department with all her official emails.

Just about 20 weeks to go.

Karl Rove joined Fox News Channel as a political contributor in February 2008. He also currently serves as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads. His latest book is "The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters" (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @KarlRove.