Web Video: What a Trump staff shake-up means for his election strategy

Jun. 21, 2016 AT 11:45 a.m. EDT

Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Gwen Ifill to discuss the latest in politics, including what Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s ousting means for the presumptive GOP nominee, Trump’s unconventional June advertising strategy, Hillary Clinton’s $23 million swing state blitz and whether mainstream Republicans will try to dump Trump at the RNC.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL : But, first, we turn to today’s campaign news, and what the summer solstice shakeup at the Trump campaign reveals about the candidate’s strategy as he heads into the general election, while at the same time, Hillary Clinton launches a pre-convention spending spree.

It’s Politics Monday, and we turn, as always, to Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, who joins us tonight from Pittsburgh.

Tam, we know that Corey Lewandowski, as Trump’s longtime right-hand man, who he fiercely defended over cases that — questions that he roughed up reporters, that he didn’t tell the truth, that he had continual fights with other members of the campaign, today, he’s out. What happened?

TAMARA KEITH , NPR: Well, it depends on who you ask.

Depending on which Trump campaign source you ask — and my colleagues at NPR have been asking many of them — he was either ousted, fired or it was a mutually agreed parting of the ways.

It seems quite clear that he was in fact fired, that the internal conflict, he came out on the wrong side of the internal conflict. And the reality is, the Trump campaign is in a really weird place. He has been the presumptive nominee essentially for six weeks, and he hasn’t really used that time and his campaign hasn’t used that time to gain any sort of an advantage.

GWEN IFILL : Amy, our friend Dana Bash at CNN interviewed Lewandowski at length today, and he said there was absolutely nothing wrong, in fact, that when Donald Trump called him and said the words you’re fired, which reminds us all of a certain reality television show, he thought that was fine.

How unusual is it to have shakeups like this, and in big campaigns at this stage?

AMY WALTER , The Cook Political Report: That’s an excellent question.

And so I went back and looked. And so many campaigns have had shakeups. The most recent, of course, in memory was the John McCain shakeup. He shook his campaign up both before the primary and then over the summer of the election year.

We have had — I sent there and looked. John Kerry had a campaign shakeup. Hillary Clinton had a campaign shakeup. John Kerry, as I said, had a campaign shakeup. There’s one thing that all of them — Al Gore as well.

There’s one thing all of them have one in common. None of them won the election for president. None were elected president of the United States. Look, there are two reasons to go through a campaign shakeup. Either, one, you need to assure your donors or activists or insiders that things are changing, because they don’t like the direction that things are going, or, two, there’s actual — something going on in the campaign where different advisers and the candidate have different opinions about where the campaign is going to go.

The challenge it seems to me for Donald Trump and the Trump campaign is, it’s not so much about strategy. It is the fact that the candidate himself doesn’t seem to be able to control himself. Donald Trump can’t fire himself. And Donald Trump is the campaign manager and the ad person and the pollster and the policy director.

And he is running this campaign. And unless or until he starts listening to people who are telling him to run a better, more focused, more disciplined campaign, I don’t think any of this is going to matter.

GWEN IFILL : Let’s talk about the conventional measures we keep applying to this campaign, which isn’t unreasonable, except that he keeps winning by unconventional measures, and he says that’s how I’m going to win the general election.

Let’s talk about money. We talked about donors being a little freaked out. Donald Trump is actually going places, and doing fund-raisers, and trying to raise money, he says, for the party.

But take a look at what he needs to raise. We have compared here what Hillary Clinton is apparently going to be spending in the next several months, or already has started spending in key states, key states that she needs to win in the fall, $23 million on ads. This is June. Let’s compare to how much Donald Trump is spending.

Nothing, absolutely nothing. Now, in Hillary Clinton’s case, we’re talking about super PACs, as well as her own campaign money. But how do you not spend any money on ads?

TAMARA KEITH : It seems that it would be a challenge.

Donald Trump’s theory here is that he can do like he did in the primary, dominate free media. Cable will run his stump speeches live and he will just keep on having big crowds and keep on winning.

It’s an interesting theory, but it’s not really clear how well that’s going to hold up. In 2012, Mitt Romney ran ads in June. He didn’t run nearly as much. He didn’t spend nearly as President Obama and his allies spent. He was vastly outspent in June.

And, as a result, the Obama campaign and his allies were really able to lock in a narrative that Mitt Romney was never able to shake. Well, Donald Trump has essentially ceded the airwaves for this month. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s allies, Priorities USA, her super PAC, has already booked more than $100 million in ad buys through November in eight key states.


OK. So, Amy, let’s talk about how one does that. Another conventional measure is having people who agree with you.


GWEN IFILL : So I saw a story in The Texas Tribune this weekend that Donald Trump goes to Texas to raise money and the guy who introduces him at the event, the Texas banker, starts to disagree with him on NAFTA, starts to disagree with him on immigration, and this is a guy writing a check to the campaign.


GWEN IFILL : Now, compare that with Hillary Clinton. Today, we saw Joe Biden come out and speak and attack Trump on her behalf. We have seen Elizabeth Warren.

For a change, it’s the Democrats who appear to be in lockstep and the Republicans who are not.


This idea about a unity party has eluded Donald Trump now for weeks. As Tam pointed out, he has had six weeks as the presumptive nominee. And every week, the story has been about something dysfunctional going on either with Donald Trump or the Donald Trump campaign.

The other thing I want to point out about this map that I think is really interesting, where both Hillary Clinton and the super PAC supporting her are spending their money, they are all in swing states, yes, indeed, but these are offensive. This is an offensive strategy, rather than a defensive strategy.

She is not playing and the outside group is not playing ads in this state, Pennsylvania, which has long gone Democratic, but a lot of people see as the kind of place where Donald Trump can break through, or Wisconsin, another Rust Belt state, and of course Michigan, another state that Donald Trump says he is going to be able to compete in with his appeal to white working-class voters.

The fact that the campaign and the super PAC are not playing in those states suggests to me that they feel more confident in their defense and now they get to play all offense all the time. Remember, if Hillary Clinton holds every single state that John Kerry carried, plus Florida and New Mexico, it’s over. She doesn’t need to win any of those other states that are in that map.

GWEN IFILL : I have one more question for both of you. We only have a minute, less than a minute left.

But there has been talk of a delegate insurgency in the Republican Party, people who are going to find a way to stop Trump at the convention.


AMY WALTER : I’m beyond skeptical that this is going to happen. We have heard this for a long time.

If I have learned anything from this primary, it’s that the insiders are not driving this train. It’s the grassroots. This would go over very badly with the grassroots, with the base, number one. Number two, there is no other candidate. I don’t see that there’s an alternative.

And, most important, do you think that if Trump gets ousted in a coup at the convention, he is just going to go quietly away and make things easy for the Republicans? He’s going to be back on Twitter and back on cable making life miserable for them.


TAMARA KEITH : What Amy said.


GWEN IFILL : She said it so well.

TAMARA KEITH : I feel like this bubble floats up every four or five days, and then it bursts and comes back down, and then we do it all over again.

GWEN IFILL : OK, big party in Cleveland last night. Maybe we will have another upheaval in Cleveland this fall, this summer.

Tamara Keith of NPR, Amy Walker of The Cook Political Report, thank you, as always.

TAMARA KEITH : You’re welcome.

AMY WALTER : You’re welcome.


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