- By Molly O’TooleMolly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian.
Is Donald Trump already throwing in the monogrammed Trump Hotel towel?
The Republican nominee wasn’t seen Wednesday morning on the campaign trail in must-win Florida, sporting a trademark “Make America Great Again” hat and slamming his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Obamacare, nor in battleground North Carolina, arguing that the former secretary of state would start “World War III“ in Syria.
Rather, Wednesday morning found the businessman-turned-politician again at another event at his hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. — billed as a “Grand Opening,” though it opened in September — mere blocks away from the White House he’s spent the last year trying to get into.
“As soon as we finish cutting the ribbon, I’m off to North Carolina and New Hampshire, and back to Florida,” Trump said under sparkling chandeliers and between gilded mirrors, framing the event as a mere corporate pit stop on the campaign trail. “I hear we’re doing very well.” Clinton now leads Trump by 4.4 points nationwide, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average.
And if Clinton’s lead holds, this may be as close as Trump gets to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The real estate magnate seems clearly to be sending a signal he’s starting to accept his dwindling chances of defeating the Democratic nominee.
In another event seemingly geared more toward self-promotion of his brand rather than his candidacy, on Tuesday Trump stopped last-minute at Trump National Doral, another of his sprawling resorts in Florida. He paraded employees to sing his praises as a boss, quipping, “Better say, ‘Good,’ or I’ll say, ‘You’re fired!’”
That evening, reports emerged his campaign will not be holding any more high-dollar fundraisers, crippling the GOP’s fundraising in the last crucial days before voters go to the polls. Now, the campaign events suggest, is not the time to fight for Republican control of Congress. It’s time to bolster his tarnished brand.
To shine a bright light on that tarnish, the Clinton campaign invited world-renowned chef José Andrés to stump with her in Florida on Wednesday. Andrés is currently in litigation with Trump for pulling out of the plans to open a restaurant in Trump’s D.C. hotel due to the candidate’s offensive language about immigrants.
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) October 26, 2016
At the hotel, Trump ticked off a litany of favorite talking points: cost overruns and poor services at the “Veterans Administration,” referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs; decaying infrastructure; a “depleted” military; and rising Obamacare premiums, which he tied to Clinton.
“Hillary said herself it was called ‘Hillarycare,’ before it was called ‘Obamacare,’” he said. “Now she wants to withdraw that statement so badly.”
“Everything the government touches is broken or they break it,” he said. At contrast, his hotel in the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., “shows how to work with government and get things done.”
Trump advisors, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, pushed back on Wednesday, saying the event showcased Trump’s business acumen, a key part of his campaign.
The former Georgia congressman told Foreign Policy a few weeks ago that if Trump didn’t say focused on his message — rather than, say, threatening to sue the women who have accused him of sexual assault, or alleging the military offensive in Iraq to take back Mosul was launched to make Obama look tough — he would lose.
Asked Wednesday whether the hotel ribbon-cutting was the kind of distraction he had warned his candidate against, Gingrich told FP: “Nonsense.”
Trump’s surrogates also downplayed the growing civil war between the nominee and his adopted party, predicting the GOP would hold the Senate.
As Trump slides, even deep-red states are crawling toward the “toss-up” column, sowing panic among many in the GOP that he is hampering down-ballot candidates and that the party could suffer a legislative bloodbath on Nov. 8.
Drawing a further contrast between the two campaigns, Clinton dispatched to neighboring Virginia Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who took Trump to task at the Democratic National Convention this summer.
Khan’s son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004. Trump spent weeks this summer sparring with the elder Khan, seeming to equate his “sacrifices” in business to the Khans’ loss, drawing widespread rebuke. His first appearance on the trail for Clinton signals she will be emphasizing a message of tolerance to contrast with Trump down the homestretch, while looking to solidify her lead with minority and women voters.
Still, Trump struck on a more optimistic tone in his telempromptered speech on Wednesday, compared with his oft-apocalyptic rhetoric on the trail. He still called the military depleted, but made sure to praise its members, “the greatest people on Earth.” Though he’s pegged the closing argument of his campaign to the notion that America is broken the election rigged, he also said, “The United States is great, its people are great, and no task or project is too great, no dream outside of our reach.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done,” he said. “The future lies with dreamers, not cynics or critics.”
Photo credit: Kris Connor / Contributor