- Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Donald Trump on Monday was coming off a “worst week ever” for the third time of this general-election campaign.
Unfortunately for Trump, though, this past week may safely be considered the worst of the three.
The trouble started last Monday when the Republican presidential nominee struggled to fend off a slew of attacks from his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, at the first debate.
Trump’s performance, viewed by more than 84 million people, was widely panned by analysts and politicians on both sides of the political aisle.
Every poll and focus group conducted soon after the Hofstra University duel arrived at the same conclusion, that Hillary Clinton bested the real-estate tycoon by large margins.
But the damage was only just beginning.
Leaks began to emerge from the Manhattan billionaire’s campaign after the debate. Campaign sources told reporters they were disappointed in Trump’s preparation for the political slugfest, embarrassing the brash billionaire, who insisted he had emerged as the winner.
Trump, frustrated his staffers were talking to the press, worked to delegitimize the leaks, saying supporters should not trust information pegged to anonymous sources.
At the same time, Trump and top surrogates began doubling down on his decades-old comments about Alicia Machado, the 1996 Miss Universe winner whom Clinton brought up toward the end of the first debate. Trump had humiliated Machado, who is originally from Venezuela, for gaining weight after she won the pageant. She said he referred to her by demeaning nicknames like “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”
In the apex of the renewed feud with Machado, Trump fired off a series of scathing tweets in the wee hours of Friday morning, calling Machado “disgusting” and asking his followers to “check out sex tape and past.”
Though a “sex tape” has not surfaced, Machado did have an appearance in a Spanish-language reality-TV program in which she appeared to engage in sexual activity in bed with a fellow castmate. Trump’s campaign further pointed to foreign press reports that Machado was a murder accomplice, which she did not deny in an interview with CNN.
- Thomson Reuters
That was followed up by a disastrous Saturday.
The New York Times published three pages of Trump’s tax returns from 1995, which a Times reporter received in the mail from an unknown sender, that showed Trump claimed a loss of more than $900 million that year. Tax experts said that loss could have made it possible for him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for nearly two decades.
Trump’s campaign neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the report. Instead, a campaign statement accused The Times of “illegally” publishing the returns and praised Trump for using the tax code to his advantage, a line that Trump’s surrogates went on to repeat.
Just as the Times report was being released, Trump, during a rally in Pennsylvania, both suggested Clinton might have cheated on her husband and reenacted the former secretary of state’s health episode from early September, when she appeared to collapse as she was entering her car.
“Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors and to herself,” Trump said. “I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill, if you want to know the truth … And really, folks, really, why should she be? Right? Why should she be?”
He later added that “she can’t make it 15 feet to her car” before flailing his arms and unsteadily walking away from the podium as if he were about to collapse.
To cap it all off, Forbes downgraded Trump’s net worth by $800 million.
“What we’re seeing is somebody who’s blowing himself apart in real time,” Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of the three most recent Republican presidents and who opposes Trump, told The Washington Post. “It’s a pretty extraordinary thing to see. It’s a political death wish, as if at some deep level he doesn’t want to be president.”
“It’s gnawing on him that he could become what he has contempt for, and that is a loser,” he added.
- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Trump was also hit with a swath of sagging post-debate poll numbers. He dipped further behind Clinton in the RealClearPolitics two-way and four-way polling averages. His odds of winning in November fell by nearly 10 percentage points in renowned statistician Nate Silver’s “polls-plus” forecast in the days that followed the debate.
“Political operatives and strategists are going to study this week for generations as the textbook case of self-sabotage,” Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist who runs Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, told The Post.
Despite the not-so-good week, there was still hope for Trump.
The real-estate tycoon has recovered from similar disastrous weeks in the past, first in late June and then in early August, bringing himself back to a near-even level in the polls. And his poll numbers so far this time around have not collapsed quite as hard as they did in those cases.
Trump also has two chances this week to rebound from the disastrous stretch.
On Tuesday, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, will debate Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, in the vice-presidential debate. In 2012, after President Barack Obama was widely viewed to have lost the initial debate to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Vice President Joe Biden helped to regain some momentum during his debate against Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan.
On Sunday, Trump gets his second chance to face off in person against Clinton – this time in a town-hall setting.
His rebound will most likely be closely tied to the level of preparation he puts into his effort ahead of that debate. He has six days to get ready.