On Hillary Clinton’s worst day of the campaign—although she managed not to be indicted--Donald Trump was talking about Loretta Lynch and Saddam Hussein.
Oh, and trying to find a running mate.
For all the furor over FBI Director James Comey and his decision not to urge criminal charges against the Democratic nominee, he gave Trump and the Republicans a huge gift, in the form of stinging criticism of Clinton’s irresponsibility in mishandling classified information.
But rather than just ride that wave, Trump tried to push the story a major step further by taking on the Justice Department and the FBI. He also detoured into lambasting a long-dead dictator, and some of his possible VP picks are withdrawing.
On balance, Trump clearly benefits from Clinton’s legal woes, criminal charges or not. But media skeptics say he wandered off message, distracting from the impact of the FBI evidence against her in the email investigation.
By declaring that “the system is totally rigged,” he is taking on Comey, a respected career prosecutor who served in the Bush administration. That’s his right, but Comey isn’t running for president.
Trump is also taking on Loretta Lynch by accusing Clinton of trying to “bribe” her. That’s a pretty explosive charge, and it’s based on a New York Times story about Hillary’s potential first 100 days that seems fairly well orchestrated by the campaign. It includes this line, which the Times, incredibly, published as utterly unremarkable: “Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton say she may decide to retain Ms. Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general.”
Was that a veiled signal to Lynch that she’ll get to keep her job if this email investigation turns out fine? Maybe—though she said after the disastrous Bill Clinton meeting that she’d defer to the FBI—but it depends on whether the “Democrats close to” are just freelancing operatives.
Meanwhile, on the very same day, Trump drew negative attention for ruminating about Saddam Hussein: “He was a bad guy — really bad guy," the presumptive Republican nominee told supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. "But you know what? He did well. He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists.”
Trump has said versions of this before, but why is he talking about a long-dead dictator—who killed huge numbers of Iraqis—instead of staying laser-focused on Hillary?
Meanwhile, in what might be called a necessary distraction, Trump is holding tryouts for a running mate. As the New York Times put it: “Mr. Trump’s approach to choosing a vice president — publicly testing them in the court of public opinion — feels oddly similar to the approach the candidate took on his reality television show, ‘The Apprentice.’”
Well, he’s not the first to hold public tryouts. But two people on the list, Bob Corker and Joni Ernst, took themselves out of the running yesterday.
Trump told Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle yesterday there are 10 people on the list, including military names, though that doesn’t seem his preference. But the clock is ticking on his choice with Cleveland approaching.
Trump has an uncanny ability to make news, but that cuts both ways. Despite his sometimes scattershot approach, the campaign’s overriding story is still the FBI findings against Clinton.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.