LAKELAND, Fla. — Donald Trump seemed poised to finish out the final stretch of the 2016 race in attack mode while campaigning in battleground Florida this week.
The Republican nominee announced on Twitter that the “shackles” were now off after a weekend that saw an avalanche of criticism and unendorsements from fellow Republicans following the release of a tape in which Trump brags about grabbing women without consent. With those shackles seem to have gone the ideas and policy specifics that some in his orbit worked so hard to have him focus on.
Instead, the strategy on Tuesday – the first of a two-day swing in Florida – was to zero in on Wikileaks and paint the Clintons as corrupt members of an entrenched Washington machine. Trump executed the plan with laser focus.
But by the next day, Trump’s focus had widened to include barbs for fellow Republicans – like House Speaker Paul Ryan – and a continuous indictment of the media, thusly diluting an anti-Clinton message that had been clearly distilled less than 24 hours earlier.
On Wednesday, Trump bounded between targets during his first rally in Ocala: Al Gore (“this poor guy, I don’t know what the hell happened to him!”), the Committee on Presidential Debates (“I have no respect for that group, by the way, I have none"), and CNBC’s John Harwood (“a total lightweight”) all functioned as Trump’s rhetorical bullseye.
The nominee complained sarcastically about RNC Chairman Reince Priebus not feeding him questions before a debate, decrying an apparent double standard between himself and Hillary Clinton after emails released by WikiLeaks allege to show the nominee may have been tipped off town hall questions.
“I want to be fed information like Hillary gets,” Trump said. “The Republicans are not doing their job. They should be able to get the questions prior to the debate."
Ryan also found himself on the receiving end of Trump’s attack lines after he openly condemned teh GOP nominee’s 2005 comments and told Republican members of Congress to do what’s best for them in their districts when it comes to supporting the presidential candidate. Trump, who had previously said he could win without Ryan’s support, now wondered if one of the top leaders in his party would be the reason for his possible loss.
"Already the Republican nominee has a massive, a massive disadvantage,” Trump complained. “And especially when you have the leaders not putting their weight behind the people…instead of calling me and saying congratulations, you did a great job and absolutely destroyed her in the debate…Wouldn’t you think that Paul Ryan would call and say, 'Good going?’”
An hour after leaving Ocala, Trump touched down in Lakeland to throngs of cheering fans. The majority of his speech was based on the Wikileaks purportedly hacked emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, but he veered off to defend himself on Russia and question the veracity of polls that showed him with a massive gender gap.
Noting the “women for Trump” signs that dotted the crowd, the Republican nominee said he “doesn’t get these polls” because of the tangible signs of support he sees from women voters. “I don’t know,” Trump said casting doubt on the polls.
The crowd here was energized at the list of Clinton scandals exposed by the hack, but – like their nominee - at times seemed more intent on shouting insults at the media.
At one point, chants of “CNN sucks” drowned out the nominee.