Amid lingering scrutiny over a staff shake-up in his faltering campaign, Donald Trump and his team of advisers sought to reclaim their footing Thursday by turning their focus back to Trump’s calls to strengthen law enforcement around the country.
The Republican presidential nominee stopped at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Iredell County, N.C., ahead of a campaign rally in Charlotte on Thursday evening, praising police officers and bemoaning increased tensions between law enforcement and their communities.
“I’m on your side a thousand percent. What you do is incredible, the risks you take and the danger,” Trump told about 50 police officers. “I think it’s probably come out more in the last six months to a year. . . . It’s come out more, the danger of being a policeman, than maybe it ever has. I’ve never seen it like it is right now.”
Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, also met with law enforcement officers Thursday for a discussion in New York about policing and racial tensions. The group included representatives of major city police forces throughout the country.
“It’s obvious that recent events — from Dallas and Baton Rouge to Milwaukee and across the country — underscore how difficult and important the work is ahead of us to repair the bonds of trust and respect between our police officers and our communities,” Clinton said. “We have to be clear-eyed about the challenges we face. We can’t ignore them, and certainly we must not inflame them.”
The meetings came at a sensitive time in relations between police and the communities they protect, after targeted killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. At the same time, several high-profile police shootings of African Americans have again roiled the nation this summer, including this past weekend in Milwaukee.
Trump has sought to cast himself as the “law and order” candidate in the race. During a speech Tuesday in the predominantly white city of West Bend, Wis., about an hour outside Milwaukee, he called for greater investment in police forces and said it would make black communities safer. Although the speech — which he read from a teleprompter — was well received by many Republicans, it was largely overshadowed by news of his campaign restructuring.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, sounded similar themes Thursday during a campaign event in Manchester, N.H.
“Donald Trump and I know our police are not a source of division in America. They represent everything that is good about this city, this state and this nation,” Pence said. “And we’re going to fight to stand with them and to stand with their families from the first day of a Trump administration.”
In contrast with the GOP ticket, Clinton has sought a balance between expressing support for law enforcement and sympathizing with the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists and others outraged by police conduct.
Clinton said Thursday that she believes there is an opportunity to work together to address “legitimate questions” in order to “ keep our communities safe, to protect lives and property while also respecting every single American.”
The Trump campaign hopes his tough talk on law enforcement and his aggressive pro-police rhetoric will appeal to disaffected voters worried about the direction of the country. But weeks of self-inflicted wounds have left him badly damaged, and he now trails Clinton by significant margins in national and battleground-state polls.
The campaign hopes the restructuring will help Trump close the gap in the final 12 weeks of the race. Veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway took over as campaign manager this week, and Stephen Bannon, who runs the Breitbart News website, became the campaign’s chief executive. Campaign officials have insisted that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager in recent months, has not been demoted, even as others have been layered into the leadership structure.
Conway appeared on several morning news shows, saying on CNN’s “New Day” that Trump will begin preparations this weekend for three scheduled debates with Clinton and discussing a pair of new campaign ads being put in rotation this weekend. Trump, meanwhile, remained uncharacteristically muted on social media through much of the day.
“We’re going to make sure Donald Trump is comfortable about being in his own skin, that he doesn’t lose that authenticity that you simply can’t buy and a pollster can’t give you. Voters know if you’re comfortable in your own skin,” Conway told CNN. “He wants to deliver the speech, if he wants to go to a rally, if he wants to connect with the crowd in a way that’s very spontaneous, that’s wonderful. And that’s how he got here.”