TAMPA, Fla. — Donald Trump continued his minority outreach efforts Wednesday with a speech that tailored his populist, anti-immigration message for an African-American and Latino audience.
But after a relatively error-free week where he stuck largely to prepared remarks, Trump began veering off-script again Wednesday, peppering the speech with his trademark non-sequiturs that at times turned the pitch awkward.
Ignoring polling that's shown him facing record deficits with minority voters, and appearing not to know how to refer to Latino voters, Trump insisted that "Over the last three weeks, the polls with African American folks and Spanish speaking folks, Hispanics, Latinos have gone way up."
Trump framed immigration reform as key to protecting jobs for all Americans, including Latinos and African-Americans, and argued renegotiating free trade deals would do the same. But in comments reminiscent of his infamous claim that Mexico sends drug dealers and rapists to the U.S., Trump made the case against free-trade deals by saying, "the only thing that comes into this country is drugs" — an off-script line not included in prepared remarks.
And when attacking Democrat Hillary Clinton, he tumbled into rhetoric reminiscent of his past controversies.
To minority voters, Trump said that once Clinton gets their votes, "she's gonna do nothing" for them. "You know what?" he added. "She doesn't have the stamina to do it, even if she wanted to." The line has been criticized as sexist in the past.
And though Trump did continue to hammer Clinton over new revelations concerning interactions between Clinton and her staff during her time at the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, he fell back into old patterns, repeating lines and at one point embracing a gaffe that seemed to hint at controversial conspiracy theories pushed by Republicans concerning Clinton's health.
"Hillary Clinton created an illegal private email server - deliberately, willfully, and with total premedication, premeditation. Could be the first way was right, actually. You know, I might like the first way better," he joked, later adding: "Premedication. I love that!"
The Tampa rally hints at how difficult it may ultimately be for Republicans to reign Trump in, despite the best efforts of his advisers. Those efforts began anew last week, when Trump's campaign chairman departed and he named GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager. He's been delivering a relatively disciplined, minority-focused message all week as he's been working to shore up ground he lost in the polls over a rocky August, but it's unclear whether the new Trump will continue on till November.
It's also unclear whether Trump's message will hit its target audience. On Wednesday, he spoke to a sizable but anemic crowd, with supporters trailing out of the venue midway through his speech, and few minority faces in the audience.