As Donald Trump prepares to campaign in at least half a dozen battleground states over eight days, the biggest question is: Which Trump will show up?
Many leading Republicans are hopeful that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee who delivered two scripted speeches this week will reveal himself more often on the campaign trail. But there are already signs that the rabble-rousing Trump — who was embroiled in a racial controversy for nearly two weeks after attacking a Latino judge — could resurface.
After spending the past few weeks off the campaign trail or in noncompetitive states such as blue California and red North Dakota, Trump will venture into swing states for a series of rallies and fundraisers beginning Friday night in Richmond. His travels will take him to Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Nevada. Trump will also go to two potentially competitive states that lean Republican: Georgia and Arizona; as well as safely Republican Texas.
Trump campaign officials told House Republican backers this week that the operation is moving strategically into general election mode and plans to alter its tone and focus criticism on Clinton. Trump is trying to move past his attacks against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, which he said in a Tuesday statement were “misconstrued” as a swipe against people of Mexican descent.
The missive was apparently in response to a speech Thursday in which Warren, who has endorsed Clinton, called Trump a “thin-skinned, racist bully.”
Democrats say they plan to use Trump’s trip over the next week to draw negative attention to him. Clinton campaign officials and Democratic allies said they will hold events, conference calls and other activities designed to highlight the mogul’s controversies as he makes his way across the country.
On Saturday, the Florida Democratic Party is scheduled to hold a news conference outside a Trump rally in Tampa to condemn what they called his “racist rhetoric” and “divisive” campaign.
During a Friday speech in Washington, Trump read some of his remarks off a teleprompter for the second time this week. He has rarely relied on teleprompters and has criticized those who use them.
“Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street agenda will crush working families. She’ll put bureaucrats, not parents, in charge of our lives,” Trump said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “She’ll be trapping kids in failing schools. She’ll plunge our inner cities into even deeper poverty, if that’s possible.”
In a Tuesday night speech meant to celebrate the end of the primary season, Trump relied on teleprompters to guide him as he issued a critique of Clinton. He plans to continue his attacks on his presumed Democratic rival Monday afternoon during a speech at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. He will hold a rally in Portsmouth later in the day.
“We all firmly believe Mr. Trump is going to be on message on policy. He’s going to take the fight to Hillary Clinton,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump backer, as he exited a meeting with the campaign on Thursday. He later added: “We’re going to be disciplined.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is a Trump backer who was sharply critical of Trump’s attacks on Curiel but says he is now satisfied with Trump’s efforts to move past them. He encouraged Trump to use teleprompters more often.
“When you’re actually the nominee, it’s a much tougher league,” said Gingrich, who also popped into the meeting and spoke to reporters as he left. “And you’ve got to be more careful, and you’ve got to think through what you’re trying to say.”
Trump declined to be interviewed. His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Trump will adjust his pitch based on the venue where he is speaking and the audience he is trying to reach.
“It just depends on the format,” Lewandowski said. “If he’s in front of 20,000 people, 30,000 people, I’d be willing to wager he’s not going to be making a teleprompter speech.”
Trump’s upcoming events could draw large protests as tensions between anti-Trump forces and supporters have grown. Outside a rally in San Jose, Calif., last week, anti-Trump protesters lined the streets and some of them physically attacked Trump backers. The candidate denounced the protesters and called them “thugs” the following day.
Many of the states Trump is visiting were among the closest of the 2012 election. President Obama won Florida by just under one percentage point, while North Carolina went to Mitt Romney by just over two points, and Obama claimed Virginia by three points. The president won Pennsylvania by five points.
In New Hampshire, where Obama’s margin was about six points, Republicans seem to have mixed feelings about Trump.
He easily outpaced his competitors there in the primary, scoring his first win as a presidential candidate. But some GOP critics say Trump’s visit, coming amid a volatile period in his campaign, will make things especially tough for Republican officeholders and activists who don’t care to be tethered to his controversial comments.
“Those Republicans who have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt — every other day for the last two weeks he’s given them a reason to delay a commitment or rethink it,” said New Hampshire Republican strategist Fergus Cullen, who opposes Trump.
Jose A. DelReal contributed to this report.