Donald Trump appears before the Western Conservative Summit July 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. | M. Scott Mahaskey. In new month, Trump returns to his old style.
DENVER — Donald Trump began July looking to turn the page on a June swoon that dulled his post-primary momentum and hurt his ability to unify a fractured Republican coalition.
He did so by talking mostly about his surprising victory in the GOP primary that ended in May.
Taking the stage before a group of around 3,000 activists attending the Western Conservative Summit here after Sarah Palin had warmed them up, Trump harped repeatedly on the primary process, reminiscing about how he failed to win a single delegate at the Colorado assembly months ago.
“I learned so much during the primaries,” Trump said. “That’s when I realized it’s rigged, people.”
Described by some as a “grievance candidate” appealing to the economic anxieties of working class whites, Trump, even as he’s three weeks from accepting the GOP nomination, carries a few grievances of his own. Palin had already set the table for Trump, who she described as a “golden wrecking ball who shattered the old boys club” as she threatened “Republicans against Trump, or ‘RAT’ for short.”
“You’re either with us or you’re against us,” she said.
Arriving 30 minutes late, Trump eschewed the teleprompters he’s been relying on more in recent weeks and ad-libbed his way through 50 minutes of remarks, promising to repeal “job killing regulations,” to “protect the Second Amendment,” to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, to back away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements and to build a border wall to prevent illegal immigration.
“We’re going to build the wall, Mexico’s going to pay for the wall,” Trump said in a state where Latinos account for 20 percent of the population and could make up more than 15 percent of the electorate in November.
In all, it was a performance reminiscent of “the old Trump,” the version many said was due in large part to the influence of now-fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
But despite Lewandowski’s being gone for nearly two weeks, the speech reprised a number of deep cuts from the freewheeling rallies that were a staple of Trump’s primary campaign, including the “BING, BANG, BONG” sound effects, stream of consciousness musings on the latest polls and well-worn lines about the country “winning so much you’ll be sick of winning.”
Forty minutes into his remarks, Trump finally slammed Bill Clinton for his recent tarmac meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, declaring that the former president has “opened a Pandora’s box” of questions about corruption amidst an ongoing federal investigation into former Secretary Clinton’s private email server.
“As you know, Hillary is so guilty,” Trump said. “She’s so guilty. And I think that he really opened it up; he opened up a Pandora’s box and it shows what’s happening with our laws and our government.”
Ten minutes later just before wrapping up, Trump hit Clinton again on foreign policy.
“Hillary is as weak as it gets. She is a weak person,” he said. “The last person [foreign adversaries] want to see become president, believe me, is Donald Trump.”
The speech marked Trump’s first appearance in Colorado — the state that tipped the 2012 election to President Obama — since last October’s GOP primary debate. Given the large Hispanic population, the state is a lower priority for Trump than Rust Belt swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. He just hired a state director, Patrick Davis, last week, two months after Clinton’s campaign hired its Colorado director.
And it comes on the first day of the month in which Trump will announce his vice presidential pick and officially accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination — a day that began with reports that more of the operatives he’d hired less than two weeks ago to help professionalize and stabilize his campaign had abruptly resigned.
Kevin Kellems, one of the new hires tasked with overseeing surrogate operations, has left the campaign. “While brief, it has been an interesting experience,” he wrote in an email to campaign staffers.
That resignation followed Thursday’s departure of Vincent Harris, the digital strategist whose hire was announced 11 days earlier. Both staffers had been part of a wave of hiring by Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort following Corey Lewandowski’s firing on June 20.
Lewandowski, who’d run afoul of Manafort, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Trump’s children, had come to be viewed as the main cause of the campaign infighting and the main impediment to its evolution. But nearly two weeks after his departure, it’s unclear how much things have steadied or changed.
Hired quickly to shill for Trump on CNN, Lewandowski is arguably a more public presence than ever—on the network’s airwaves and, on Thursday, dressed in shorts and loafers, in person at Trump’s campaign rally in New Hampshire.
And even after removing the operative who proudly adopted a “let Trump be Trump” mantra, Trump, to no one’s surprise, is still being Trump.
On Thursday, a day after a delivering an anti-free trade stem-winder that sought to sharpen his populist economic attack on Hillary Clinton, Trump held a town hall-style event Thursday, taking questions outside a plant shuttered he argued as a result of free trade in an effort to hammer home the same message—but he undercut that message when he joked that a plane flying overhead could have been “a Mexican plane” that was “getting ready to attack.”
At the same event, he segued from describing his campaign’s “vetting” of a short list of potential running mates into a promise to take care of “the vets.”
Ryan Call, the former Colorado GOP chairman who has been vocal about the party’s need to appeal more broadly to Hispanic voters and is now working for Rebuilding America Now, an anti-Clinton super PAC that is indirectly aiding Trump, called July an “important turning point” for Trump to “demonstrate that he can be a serious and disciplined candidate and that he and the RNC can build a serious and disciplined campaign organization.
“Leading up to the RNC Convention in Cleveland in a few short weeks, Mr. Trump has the opportunity to use July to convince skeptical Republicans that he can fundraise effectively, build a strong national campaign and legitimate ground game in swing states, and frame the issues and contrasts with Hillary Clinton in a way that will give him a fighting chance for victory in November,” he said.