The Republican nominee’s backslide shows no sign of easing.
Updated 08/16/16 01:33 PM EDT
The blows just keep coming for Donald Trump. The Republican nominee was hit by two brutal polls on Tuesday that showed him badly lagging in the critical swing states of Virginia and Florida, underscoring the backslide that Trump’s campaign can’t seem to stop.
The Washington Post poll from Virginia found Hillary Clinton leading Trump by a whopping 14 points among registered voters, 52 percent to 38 percent, and by eight points among likely voters, 51 percent to 43 percent.
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In Florida, the news wasn’t much better for Trump. A Monmouth University poll released in the afternoon showed Clinton opening up a nine-point gap in the state, where her largest lead had not exceeded six points in recent weeks. In Florida, where presidential fortunes have been often won, lost or drawn out in historic fashion, Clinton now leads Trump 48 percent to 39 percent among likely voters, drawing large support from women, from the state’s racially diverse population and notably, from 12 percent of Florida Republican voters.
While Trump has been a volatile candidate throughout his presidential campaign, the string of self-inflicted controversies since the conventions have presented a stark reality — Clinton appears to be breaking away.
The evidence is in the numbers. Trump and Clinton were virtually tied coming out of July in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, but Clinton now boasts a roughly 7-point advantage. Perhaps more damaging, Clinton has pulled out a 6-point lead in POLITICO’s Battleground States Polling Average, which includes the 11 states that likely will determine who claims victory in November.
And experts who have studied presidential campaigns for decades have concluded that no candidate in Trump’s polling position at this stage of the race has gone on to win the popular vote in modern times — though they’re not fully writing off the unprecedented candidate yet.
The atmospherics around the two campaigns also don’t bode well for Trump. Despite her still-dismal favorability numbers and the outstanding scandal involving her State Department emails, Clinton has been able to project the feeling of momentum, rolling out on Tuesday her White House transition team.
Trump, meanwhile, has been stuck in the hole he’s been digging since the conventions.
His much-hyped foreign policy speech on Monday continued to make headlines on Tuesday for its call for the “extreme vetting” of immigrants — a divisive policy measure that has caused agitation within the Republican Party — with Democrats piling on the criticism.
Former Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who was a contender to be Clinton’s running mate, on Tuesday mocked the Manhattan businessman for demonstrating a lack of sophistication and knowledge befitting a commander in chief.
“I think he made a reasonable stab at ‘hey, we ought to try to take some international action.’ He kind of said, ‘good dog, NATO,'” Stavridis said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” making reference to Trump’s claiming of credit for the international organization changing its counterterrorism priorities. “NATO has had that counter-terrorism division forever,” said Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral and former NATO commander. “What really was lacking in the speech is anything about how the inter-agency of the government would work together, how we’d use intelligence, how we’d use cyber, private/public communication, strategic communication. The only strategic communication I heard was, ‘I hate Muslims.'”
Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares offered a more generous take on the speech, suggesting to “Fox & Friends” that it represented another point in the nominee’s evolution in substance and style.
“That exactly shows the evolution, a mature evolution, based on input, on information. He actually operates now almost like a president listening to advisers, people in the intelligence or [who] worked in the intelligence, defense, diplomacy. And the position is very normal. He made the initial statement because we didn’t know. We didn’t know a part,” Phares said, referring to Trump’s initial declaration in December that the U.S. should temporarily ban all Muslim immigrants. “Now that we know better, the response is extreme vetting. The response is alliance with Arab moderates and most of the moderates around the world. So that shows that basically there is a strategy, not just a static position.”
Gov. Scott Walker, a Trump surrogate, echoed the importance of the nominee continuing to stay on message while acknowledging the campaign’s current uphill climb in his battleground state of Wisconsin.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on whether or not the focus is on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump or whether or not the national media talks about sideshow issues. If Donald Trump can keep the focus on her, and give speeches like he gave yesterday where he clearly lays out a very presidential approach as to how he’ll address the security of our nation, he can win,” Walker told Fox News. “If he gets off on other issues, it becomes much more difficult. People are ready for a change. Americans want to change. People here in Wisconsin want a change. Hillary Clinton is not a change agent. But if she gets people talking about other issues other than that, she can win. If Donald Trump can get the focus on her and how he’s the true change agent, he can win.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has made it known that he will won’t support either Trump or Clinton in November, also praised Trump for his delivery on Monday.
“The one thing I thought Donald Trump did very well was give a damning indictment, like a prosecutor of Obama’s failed foreign policy,” Graham said on the “Kilmeade & Friends” radio show. “And it is true, whether people want to believe it or not — I believe it — that without Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq and failure to intervene in Syria in a timely way, that there would be no ISIL.”
He made sure to clarify, though, that he doesn’t believe that Trump is closing any gap with Clinton.
“So if we do lose, and the reason I think we’re going to lose, is because the demographic meltdown that came from harsh rhetoric and policies by Mr. Trump, making every problem we had in 2012 worse,” Graham said on WABC Radio’s “Imus in the Morning.” “It’s not about me not voting for Donald Trump, I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton, it is about America is changing and the party is being left behind.”
Other Republicans aren’t budging, either. Facing a tough reelection fight, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte earned Trump’s endorsement earlier this month after the Republican nominee expressed reluctance for backing her, along with fellow vulnerable Sen. John McCain of Arizona. But Ayotte maintained on Monday that while she would vote for Trump, she would not endorse her party’s nominee.
“I will take on my own party,” Ayotte told CNN in an interview published Tuesday. “I really believe that this is a big issue in this race — that I am the one candidate that will stand up to whomever is in the White House to do good things when we can work together — also when it’s wrong to stand up to them.”