In a fluctuating race, will Donald Trump’s reset succeed?

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GWEN  IFILL: Are the polls real? Will the reset take?

For more on the state of this topsy turvy political year, we turn to Politics Monday. That’s Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

Welcome back, ladies.

Tamara, tell me about this Trump speech today. Was this the reset, the pivot we keep talking about?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Or was the last one the pivot?

GWEN IFILL: Or was the last one?

TAMARA KEITH: Or was the last one before that the pivot?

Hillary Clinton just said this. There is only one Trump. There are different flavors of Donald Trump. There’s teleprompter speech, policy speech Donald Trump, which is what we got today. There is rally Donald Trump, where he says stuff and gets the crowd going, and then there is Twitter Donald Trump at various hours of the day.

This is part — about once every month, we get one of these teleprompter speeches. In some way, this was a reset. His tax plan that you mentioned in the piece, it was on his Web site until about 24 hours ago. Then it came down. Now there’s a new tax plan which aligns with a tax plan from House Republicans, moves him more into the orbit of the Republican mainstream.

And there were several things in this speech that moved him a little bit closer to the Republican mainstream.

(CROSSTALK)

GWEN IFILL: Go ahead, Amy.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Yes. And I think that’s the key, because if you look at the biggest challenge for Donald Trump right now, he’s doing very well among these white working-class voters.

We keep talking about that. Where he’s not doing well are white white-collar voters. And this was a message directly related to them. It was interesting to see Hillary Clinton talk about repackaging Reaganomics.

For a lot of those voters who right now are saying either I’m voting for Hillary Clinton or I’m undecided on Donald Trump, they kind of like the Reaganomics message. They like the tax cut message. They like the lack of regulation — or scaling back on regulation message.

And the economy is one — of the 14 different areas that The Wall Street Journal poll asked who do you think does a better job of question, Donald Trump only was ahead on four of those. One of those was the economy.

This is a place where, if I were that campaign, I would be spending much more time talking about the economy, a lot less time beating up on your fellow Republicans.

GWEN IFILL: And of course we are going to hear more from Hillary Clinton on the subject later — or as the week goes on apparently every day.

Tam, let’s talk about last week’s unforced, or were they unforced errors, the errors, the series of errors. Is that what led us to today, to the teleprompter speech?

TAMARA KEITH: It certainly would seem like he needed a reset.

He need to have a clean break from last week’s sort of rolling errors. But, even as late as yesterday, he was tweeting fact-checks about the baby, the baby being a baby that…

GWEN IFILL: Crying baby that he made the joke about.

TAMARA KEITH: There was a crying baby. And then he made a joke and it was interpreted as him kicking a baby out of a rally, when maybe the baby had already left.

But as late as yesterday, he was tweeting about this. So today’s speech, the challenge is, we are getting closer and closer to the general election. And in today’s speech, he said I will have more specifics, I will have details on my Web site, tune in, in a couple of weeks. We have heard that before. And so I wait for digging into policy, but maybe this race isn’t really about policy.

(CROSSTALK)

GWEN IFILL: That’s part of the question.

But on the other hand, let’s just measure this by — just for giggles, by conventional measures. Hillary Clinton, including during the Olympics, is hammering him with anti-Trump ads. Not a peep in conventional sense coming from Donald Trump.

AMY WALTER: Right.

He still has yet to show us that he’s going to run a traditional campaign. Now, look, he’s gotten this far.

(CROSSTALK)

GWEN IFILL: Not one ad, not one television ad.

AMY WALTER: Not one television ad. He doesn’t have a traditional anything. Right?

And he’s gotten this far. And so this is what we have been going back and forth about for this entire campaign, which is he’s either going to show us at the end of the day that he’s upended all the rules of politics, that you don’t need these fancy consultants, you don’t need ads, you don’t need polls, you don’t need any of it, just your personality and your message and the environment alone can drive voters to the polls.

GWEN IFILL: But let me try something with you.

AMY WALTER: Yes, please.

GWEN IFILL: When we were sitting at the conventions and we heard him say, “I am your voice,” I think we all agreed that that was his message, that he had settled on a message. We have not heard that since.

AMY WALTER: Well, I think still to the voters that support him, that still is the message, that he is going to be the person that stands up for us.

His challenge is that he hasn’t broadened it beyond that same group of voters he was speaking to at the convention. And this speech for the first time what he did was he married the traditional sort of Chamber of Commerce, Republican message on taxes and entitlements with the populist, anti-NAFTA, anti-trade message that he’s been saying on the trial, trying to bring the party together.

Again, unifying the party has been a challenge that he continues to struggle with. And until he figures that out, Hillary Clinton is going to continue to have a lead.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and also for the first time, we have seen kind of both candidates talking about mental stability as an issue, speaking about their opponent.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes.

Hillary’s campaign begun this several months — or at least a month ago, I would say, talking about whether he’s temperamentally fit to be president. At the convention, Michael Bloomberg said, let’s choose a sane candidate.

And that was a big moment. Here’s a major figure at a convention talking about sanity. Donald Trump this week seems to have gone to the “I know you are, but what am I?” school, and now he’s saying that Hillary Clinton is temperamentally unfit.

GWEN IFILL: Based on her comment saying that she short-circuited an answer on e-mails.

(CROSSTALK)

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, she short-circuited an answer.

This has also spawned some conspiracy theories about her health.

GWEN IFILL: So, let’s talk about someone else getting into the race, someone probably I think it’s fair the three of us had never heard of, a gentleman by the name of Evan McMullin, who says he’s going to represent all the Republicans who are not for Trump.

AMY WALTER: Right.

GWEN IFILL: Who is he?

AMY WALTER: He’s a former CIA operative. He’s a former House staffer. He now is retired from his position at the House.

This is what we have been talking about, I feel like, at this table for so long. You have this group of Republicans who say they can’t support Trump, but they can’t find somebody else to rally around.

Here is his challenge, getting on ballots in many states. The deadlines have closed.

GWEN IFILL: The same time — the last time we talked about David French right now, yes.

AMY WALTER: Remember that, David French? His challenge, getting on ballots.

This is a candidate who also went to BYU, the thought being he could play well in a place like Utah or Arizona that have a big Mormon population. Arizona, you have to get a lot of signatures to get on the ballot. And the deadline there is the first week in September.

Utah, not as arduous, but that means just like one or two states that he may have an impact on. And, quite frankly, if we’re talking about Arizona in Utah in September and October, this race is a blowout. Like, it’s not even going to be lose. We might as well just sleep in on Election Day.

GWEN IFILL: But except it doesn’t seem at all to be the case.

AMY WALTER: That’s right.

GWEN IFILL: At least, no one is willing to quite go that far.

So, the Friday light, late night, programmed against the Olympics endorsement of Paul Ryan, Kelly Ayotte, and John McCain, does that help them at all, or does it hurt them?

TAMARA KEITH: No.

And it really looked like those endorsements came under duress. He was reading. He looked uncomfortable saying it. No, it doesn’t help them.

AMY WALTER: Yes. If I were Senator Kelly Ayotte, who right now is looking at a very, very tough race in a state that’s now turning away from Donald Trump, I would be like, you know what, thanks, but that’s OK, you can keep your endorsement.

GWEN IFILL: And I think that’s kind of what Paul Ryan said, which was, that’s nice.

AMY WALTER: That’s nice, but I don’t…

GWEN IFILL: You don’t think it necessarily helps? You don’t think it necessarily helps?

TAMARA KEITH: No, they’re in a tough spot.

All of these people who are down-ballot are in a tough spot, because they don’t — they have already on some level associated themselves with the person at the top of the ticket. And at the same time, they are trying to distance themselves. And Democrats aren’t going to let them get away with distancing themselves one bit.

GWEN IFILL: And brace for whatever may happen this week, as opposed to last week.

AMY WALTER: Yes. Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Tamara Keith of NPR, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, thank you both very much.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

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