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A Pivotal Week For Donald Trump


The two major parties are now in general election territory. We're one week in, but what a week it's been. Hillary Clinton is up in the polls. Donald Trump is down, and it seems like he may be losing that Teflon quality to his candidacy after long being able to say whatever he wants on the campaign trail without consequences.

Trump backpedaled on a handful of comments this week, including his refusal to endorse fellow Republicans - House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain in their races. After shocking his party when he wouldn't, Trump changed his mind last night. Joining me to unpack it all is NPR's Washington desk editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thanks for joining us, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Glad to be with you, Ray.

SUAREZ: Well, first of all, we've been hearing all along that the general election is a very different beast from the primary election. Was Donald Trump testing that proposition in the way he was running for president?

ELVING: It seems that way, doesn't it? Indeed, he has won the rights to the Republican nomination by winning the hearts of a plurality of Republican voters. That gives him a claim on the rest of the Republican voters. And that seems like a very large number of people and is, but it still only adds up to about 40 percent or less of the complete general electorate. So he really needs to get beyond that level to be competitive in the presidential race. And he's not making the moves that presidential candidates always have to pivot to the general election.

SUAREZ: Every day, or it seems like it, there's been a new story about the Trump campaign, starting with the continuing feud with a Gold Star family. He's been on quite a run.

ELVING: And toward the end of the week, he was saying that he had seen a videotape of a plane carrying cash into Tehran. That videotape never existed. And he finally did actually reverse himself on that and said, no, he had seen a videotape of a different plane, and it wasn't the one he had said it was.

It seems every day there is something that he either needs to walk back or that people are kind of slapping their foreheads about. This, of course, included a lot of things that were kind of trivial, kind of small things, and yet, the drumbeat of his own miscues and denunciations coming from former directors of intelligence and that sort of thing, saying he's not trustworthy. It's really been quite a week.

SUAREZ: So, Ron, where is Hillary Clinton in all this? Is she just keeping out of the way and waiting for the dust to settle?

ELVING: To some degree that is what she's doing, but she's been out on the campaign trail with her vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine. They've been touring swing states, but she has also been trying to deal, slowly, with some of these perceptual problems that she has. She did actually take questions from journalists at the end of the week at a conference for minority journalists. She struggled, as usual, with the formulation of what she should say about her emails, so it was a mixed bag for her, but not the kind of thing that's going to knock out the story of the week, which was Donald Trump and his struggles.

She is planning to campaign very little in the next couple of weeks so as not to compete with the Olympics, which will be the big focus. But she is planning to buy and has bought a lot of TV time during the Olympics so that her anti-Trump ads can be seen.

SUAREZ: Did Trump inadvertently cause the press to look away from the Clinton campaign? Often coming out of a party primary with the new ticket, that's their launch and appreciations - or assessments are written at that point, and it seems like that scrutiny didn't happen.

ELVING: We could go back over the past presidential cycles for the last 30, 40 years, and right after a convention is often a point when new focus on a candidate who has just been nominated is difficult for that candidate. And news stories come out that are hard for them.

We've also seen instances where a very successful rollout tour - Bill Clinton and Al Gore, for example, in 1992, coming out of their nomination convention. They went on a bus tour that was highly successful and very mediagenic, so it can be good or bad. But the usual focus on the candidate who has just had that party's convention was lost in the controversies that came out of that convention and generated by Donald Trump going after the Gold Star family and then with all of the other things that came on after that.

SUAREZ: That's NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks a lot.

ELVING: Thank you, Ray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Ray Suarez