Forget the headlines — Donald Trump is having a very good month.
This isn't just because his businesses may be seeing a campaign-year boost, or because Democrats have currently wrested the title of "Party Most Likely To Experience Arrests On the Convention Floor" away from the GOP. At this point in the year, when presumptive nominees tend to take a bit of a break from the road, the campaign action is largely defined by moves you can't capture on camera. And right now, Donald Trump appears to be making the right ones.
Today, Chris Cillizza took a closer look at a few of them:
1. Traveling to D.C. to meet with Paul Ryan. He needed to make a gesture that would give party leaders like Ryan a justification for their change of heart. He made it. "The mood in the wake of Trump's visit — from Ryan to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — was ebullient. And, more importantly for Trump, it was clear that Ryan would, at some point in the not-too-distant future, be for him."
2. Hiring a pollster. You can (maybe) win a primary season without a pollster; Trump often bragged about the fact that he did. That is one of many, many differences between a nomination fight and a general election. A candidate competing nationwide with no guidance on where to direct resources, what messages are working and which battlegrounds to concede is experiencing the campaign equivalent of sensory deprivation. Donald Trump is no longer campaigning blind: This week, he hired veteran Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio. "There's no downside for Trump. Do you think one person who was for him in the primary is going to care (or even know) that he hired Fabrizio? Answer: No."
(On a related note: ditching another talking point — the pretense of a "self-funding" campaign — was also smart; Trump basically gave up a line in his stump speech, and got a billion dollars for it. That's...not a bad trade.)
3. Making nice with Megyn Kelly. "The interview was largely easy on Trump — it was no interview with Sean Hannity, but what is? — and he came out looking none the worse for wear. Plus, he was able to show the world how magnanimous he is, how he never holds grudges and how he can make up with anyone. Win, win, win."
4. Rolling out a list of potential Supreme Court picks. "Trump made no secret of his goal with the list: to put 11 names on it that would be totally unimpeachable in the eyes of conservative activists. Look at the kind of judges I would put on the Supreme Court, Trump is saying to doubting conservatives. And imagine the kind of judges Hillary Clinton would pick. See?"
5. Making clear there are no boundaries in your planned attacks against Hillary Clinton. "Trump's willingness to suggest that Bill Clinton had raped Juanita Broaddrick in his Wednesday night interview with Hannity is only the latest signal he is sending to Republicans that he considers absolutely nothing off limits when it comes to drawing a contrast with Hillary Clinton in the fall campaign. ...It is literally impossible to be 'too nasty' to Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton) in the eyes of the Republican base. The more Trump amps up his rhetoric toward the former first couple, the more loyalty (and unity) he engenders from a party base badly in need of a rallying force."
In another reminder of the Trump campaign's general election makeover, delegate guru Paul Manafort was given a new title Thursday: campaign chairman and chief strategist.
The veteran GOP strategist "will continue to help the campaign prepare for the Republican convention in July but he will primarily focus on gearing up the general election, according to campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks," reported Jenna Johnson. "Trump's longtime campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, will continue in that role and continue to oversee many day-to-day campaign operations.
Hicks said the title change "should be seen as 'putting permanence' to Manafort's role in the campaign now that Trump is the likely nominee and there is slim chance of a contested GOP convention in July. She said that Manafort and Lewandowski will continue to have their own sets of responsibilities.
"Manafort joined the campaign in late March at a time when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was aggressively targeting delegates and the party seemed headed toward a contested convention. Ever since then, Manafort and Lewandowski have seemed to wrestle for control of the campaign and for Trump's attention. Lewandowski operates under a policy of 'let Trump be Trump,' while Manafort has seemed to push the candidate to exercise more discipline on the campaign trail.
"When asked if Manafort's apparent promotion means Lewandowski is losing power in the campaign, Hicks replied: 'They're very much working together.'"
DUELING DEMS UPDATE:
Herein: The Democratic primary contest right now, in two opposing statements.
Here's what Hillary Clinton said to CNN's Chris Cuomo today:
"I went all the way to the end against then Senator Obama. I won nine out of the last 12 contests back in '08. I won Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia. So I know the intense feelings that arise, particularly among your supporters as you go toward the end. But we both were following the same rules just as both Senator Sanders and I are following the same rules. And I'm three million votes ahead of him and I have an insurmountable lead in pledge delegates and I'm confident that just as I did with Senator Obama, where I said, you know what? It was really close. Much closer. Much closer than it is between me and Senator Sanders right now."
And here's how Bernie Sanders responded:
"In the past three weeks voters in Indiana, West Virginia and Oregon respectfully disagreed with Secretary Clinton. We expect voters in the remaining eight contests also will disagree. And with almost every national and state poll showing Sen. Sanders doing much, much better than Secretary Clinton against Donald Trump, it is clear that millions of Americans have growing doubts about the Clinton campaign."
Most of his statement isn't wrong. Neither is hers. Here's where things stand right now:
As to Clinton's statement: 2008 and 2016 aren't a total parallel. "The roadmap provided by 2008 is an imperfect one. Yes, Clinton stayed in until the last contest and split the results with Obama. But by then, it was already over, since there were so few delegates left. There are, in other words, reasons for Sanders to hang around that didn't exist for Clinton. His odds are no better; in fact, they're probably currently worse, since he trails in the popular vote and by more pledged delegates."
But the campaign has spent the past few weeks covering a portion of the primary season calendar demographically friendlier to the Vermont senator. And so Sanders has been accumulating the wins he noted — wins that weren't big enough to change the reality of the race, but were enough to affect the dynamic, and his mindset.
It may have been an inevitable development for a campaign whose goalposts for victory have shifted throughout the race. "As Sanders's campaign evolved from non-starter to actual contender, so has Sanders's argument for his path to victory," notes Philip Bump. "As that path has looked less possible, those arguments have grown increasingly complex." The current stated strategy: to close the pledged delegate gap significantly with a massive double-digit win in California on June 7. (If you haven't been tracking that race: Sanders has narrowed the polling gap considerably — but Clinton has yet to trail in any survey.)
The other intangible motivator for Sanders's defiant tone right now: the confrontation in Nevada. His statement about that situation featured "tough language, bordering on a threat that he and his people will either continue to create problems for Clinton or abandon her entirely if she is the nominee," says Cillizza. "Clinton, judging from what she told CNN's [Chris] Cuomo, doesn't like to be threatened."
TRAIL MIX: As Donald Trump appears at a fundraiser tonight to help pay off Chris Christie's presidential campaign debt, a poll finds two-thirds of New Jersey's Republicans don't think the governor should join Trump on the GOP ticket.
About 100 or so protesters now at the Trump-Christie fundraiser in New Jersey. pic.twitter.com/5BYtSYPFD6— Michael Catalini (@mikecatalini) May 19, 2016
Watch: Trump supporter surrounded by protesters outside NJ fundraiser, his sign taken and ripped apart. pic.twitter.com/zuBbJSUmlF— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) May 19, 2016
Watch: Protesters break through police barricade, rush toward Trump/Christie event as Trump helicopter arrives. pic.twitter.com/ttTClPWcvQ— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) May 19, 2016
Robert Graciano custom-made this sign for NJ fundraiser. Says he's already been approached by ppl eager to get one. pic.twitter.com/mCu4zHnvDm— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) May 19, 2016
—Here's what happens after a comms staffer re-watches an old Wes Anderson film (we assume)
—As liberal grumbling about the Sanders campaign grows, so do their complaints about DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
—Following on Trump's defensive response to their last spot, Priorities USA has decided to take the course of maximum mogul irritation again: their new ad, "Con-Man" labels many of his business ventures failures — a hit that's drawn fierce pushback from the presumptive nominee in the past.
—A decade ago, Donald Trump said he was considering a season of The Apprentice that would have pitted a team of black contestants against a team of white ones. (That didn't happen.)
—Campaign culture war update: The House floor erupted on Thursday "when Republican leaders successfully whipped their members to vote down a Democratic amendment that sought to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to pay contractors that discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," reported Karoun Demirjian. Here's what happened after six GOP members switched their votes:
—The third party/Stop-Trump dream lives, via an actual third party — as of yesterday, Libertarians had the option of nominating a ticket consisting of two former Republican governors: Gary Johnson of New Mexico for president (again), with Bill Weld of Massachusetts as his running mate. Johnson does not actually have that rumored eight-figure donation from the Koch brothers; he does have a #NeverTrump pitch (Literally. His new spot is titled 'Never Trump': "Look, I can't support Trump. And you can't either," he says.)
When Trump speaks of deporting immigrants, said Weld, "I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear that, honest."
Come again? "I’m not horrified about everything Mr. Trump has done at all... I think he’s done a lot," he said. "But when I think about some of the positions, I think they’re way out there."
among the casualties of the 2016 election so far: Godwin's Law— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) May 19, 2016
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: Mascot boot camp. Mantra: “You’ve got to pull from something that’s withinside of you.” (You read that right. Anyway, trust us: your day will be tangibly better for having viewed this video.)