What would it take for Donald Trump to reset his campaign?
GWEN IFILL: For more on the splinters within the Grand Old Party, we are joined by Charlie Sykes, conservative talk show host and editor in chief of the Web site RightWisconsin.com, and Matthew Dowd, chief political analyst for ABC News. He is a former adviser to the Republican National Committee, and, in 2004, served as President George W. Bush's chief strategist.
Welcome to you, gentlemen.
Charlie Sykes, you're in Wisconsin. We heard, saw what happened today with Paul Ryan, Mike Pence going one way, Donald Trump going the other way, and Reince Priebus caught in the middle. Should there be — the word we keep hearing is intervention. Should there be an intervention under way?
CHARLIE SYKES, Radio Host, WTMJ: Yes, we got to give credit to Matthew Dowd because he actually tweeted that out, that it was time for an intervention.
CHARLIE SYKES: Yes, absolutely. What you have to understand is that they were trying to make a play for Wisconsin.
Reince Priebus, of course, is the key to all of. And he was the one who brokered the deal with Ryan and Trump and got Scott Walker to flip-flop on all of this. And then Mike Pence is the bridge to conservatives in Wisconsin, where Donald Trump has not done well. And what did Donald Trump do yesterday but come right behind Mike Pence and blow up that bridge.
So, obviously, you have this sense that this campaign is a dumpster fire inside a nuclear meltdown, and they absolutely need an intervention. And what happened in Wisconsin, where Donald Trump is coming here on Friday, and he's coming into very, very hostile territory, almost no leading Republican will be at that rally, and at some point, they're going to have to do a reset of some kind.
GWEN IFILL: But — Matthew Dowd, but we saw the fund-raising numbers. He's still doing well in some situations. We heard him today talk about unity. So where is he really? Is this just people who never liked him not liking him anymore?
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC News: Well, this is less U.S. Constitution and more Articles of Confederation type of unity in the course of this.
I mean, I don't see any unity at this point in time. And you get the sense that there's a whole bunch of Republicans. They can't force him off the ballot. Donald Trump is going to win. I think there is a more of a chance — and to Charlie's team, there's more of a chance of the Milwaukee Brewers winning the World Series this year than Donald Trump getting off the ballot in this case.
But I think what could happen is Republican Senate candidates, Republican congressional candidates begin to basically design all their campaigns completely separate and apart from Donald Trump. I think this is a big concern. It comes at the worst possible time for Donald Trump. It comes in the aftermath of the two conventions.
People thought this was going to be a slow period, but it really, Gwen, sets up the tone for what is going to happen in the fall. And it puts him at a huge disadvantage in the course of. And I feel bad for Mike Pence.
Donald Trump ought to call Mike Pence the janitor, because he spends most of his time cleaning up the mess that's left in aisle one, two, three, four, and five. And so I think he has got to straighten this out, but I don't know if Donald Trump has it in him to straighten out.
GWEN IFILL: Charlie Sykes, take the long view here. What has Donald Trump been doing right and what has he not been doing as right since his convention?
CHARLIE SYKES: Well, he's been getting a lot of attention, hasn't he?
What he's been doing wrong is almost everything. In the last six days, rather than going after Hillary Clinton, he's what? He's gone after the Gold Star moms. He's lied about the NFL letter. He's thrown crying babies out of his rally, and he's picked fights with prominent Republicans.
And I think that what you're having — and I think Matthew is absolutely right — in the last 24, 48 hours, there is this growing recognition that, you know what, it's not going to happen. He's not going to pivot. He's not going to grow up. He's not going to become more presidential.
And I think Republicans had been talking themselves into thinking, OK, you know, Donald Trump was one way during the primary, but he's absolutely assured us and Reince Priebus has assured us that he's going to change his ways, he's going to become more responsible, and it can't get any worse.
Well, on a daily basis, it's gotten worse and worse and worse. And the stories that you're seeing about the disillusion in the Republican Party are absolutely true. And the stories you're hearing out of the Trump campaign have the ring of truth because it doesn't look like he's listening to somebody.
So, the question is, how does a 70-year-old man change his temperament and his character and his judgment? You can change the positions and the language of a campaign, but how do you become somebody different than who you are? And I think what we're seeing is who Donald Trump is, and it's very, very frightening to a lot of Republicans right now.
GWEN IFILL: Matthew, we saw him come out today, for instance, and talk about the secret, or whatever it was, shipment of money to Iran and make the connection between what he said was a deal that had been cut for a bad deal and how Iran had benefited from that.
That seemed like it was sticking to message. So, he is not incapable of sticking to message.
MATTHEW DOWD: No, he's not incapable of it. But he seems incapable of sticking to a message for more than 15 minutes or more than 30 minutes in the course of.
Presidential campaigns are stories. They're long narratives, multi-chaptered stories. And you have to build each chapter in order to convince voters at the end of the story that they need to go with you, as opposed to the opposition.
The thing I think that frustrates Republicans most — and I will pick up on something Charlie said — is the fact this is an eminently winnable race against Hillary Clinton. But for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is the most unpopular, most untrusted person to run for office in an open seat ever for the presidency.
The problem is, she's running against somebody more untrusted at this time, and more disliked at this time. And so I think what's really causing the huge concern, is, wow, this is a race that we could have won, even with Donald Trump.
The funny thing is, even with Donald Trump and all the mistakes, he's only five or six points behind in this environment against a candidate like Hillary Clinton. But if he keeps doing this and can't stay with a message longer than a half-hour or longer than an hour, Hillary Clinton is going to win a race that in most years she should be unable to win.
GWEN IFILL: Charlie Sykes, a squandered opportunity to go after Hillary Clinton?
CHARLIE SYKES: Yes, very much.
In fact, one top Republican told me last night, you know, if Donald Trump after the convention had just gone off to a desert island and had said nothing, he probably would be ahead in the polls, that what you have here is Trump is defeating Trump.
And that's what is so frustrating, because Hillary Clinton has actually had a very, very bad week. And yet you wouldn't know it, because Donald Trump has really masked her problems.
So, what I think you have is, you have Republicans trying to talk themselves into thinking things will get better, but that is obviously at this point the triumph of hope over experience. And I think that that's why you might see in the next three or four days more and more Republicans either withdraw their support, distance themselves. I don't know how many you are going to have say that they are going to vote for Hillary Clinton.
But once that starts — and I don't know what Matthew thinks about this — I get the sense it might be a dam breaking, that once you have one prominent Republican backing away, that others are going to see this as permission to say, you know what, we do not want to be part of this. We do not want to go down with the anchor of Donald Trump, because right now it's not just the presidency.
It is all the down-ballot races. And I think you have a Republican Party that's looking into the abyss if they cannot get Donald Trump to clean up his act.
GWEN IFILL: Matthew, you can answer that question, but I also want to you to answer this. We saw Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, for all intents and purposes, today say that the person running this campaign is Donald Trump, he's the one who is in control.
Is that a good or a bad thing?
MATTHEW DOWD: Well, a physician shouldn't be your own doctor. And I have been involved in a lot of campaigns where candidates start out thinking that they should be the one running the campaign. They pretty much figure out very quickly that's impossible and they're going to run a bad campaign.
Usually, candidates run the worst campaigns in the course of this, because they don't have the objectivity to look at it and see what you need to do.
To answer Charlie's question, I agree with him. I think you could see that coming. I think the first sign of you seeing that coming is there will begin to be Republicans start voting and start saying they're going to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, on the ballot. And they are going to begin to see Republicans saying Gary Johnson ought to be included in the debates.
I don't think — as Charlie said, I don't think you will see a bunch of Republicans go to Hillary Clinton, because they think that's as dissatisfactory a choice as Donald Trump is, but I can see a lot of Republicans deciding that Gary Johnson is the best place to go against Donald Trump.
GWEN IFILL: Matthew Dowd and Charlie Sykes, another 24 hours, and perhaps we will even get another storyline. Thank you both very much.
For the record, we did try to reach out to the Trump campaign, and they declined to provide a spokesman.
But thank you both very much.
MATTHEW DOWD: Thank you.
CHARLIE SYKES: Thank you.