Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump plans to fight fire with fire, as he sees it, in the last 25 days of his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Facing a barrage of separate sexual assault allegations, Trump has responded by waging an intense war against the media, the “power structure” and the Clintons. In a pair of interviews with Yahoo News, a high-level Trump campaign source detailed the aggressive strategy, including the “suppression of votes” by Democratic-leaning groups, for the home stretch of the presidential race.
“We’re bringing out tactical nukes now, with thermo nukes later,” the source said.
Trump’s epic political battle will be conducted on multiple fronts. The source detailed plans to launch assaults on media “collusion,” on former President Bill Clinton’s past sex scandals and on allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. The Trump source further suggested that the nominee would “weaponize” messages from WikiLeaks’ trove of hacked emails and introduce the world to new skeletons from the Clintons’ closet.
This explosive approach was on display Sunday, when Trump brought women who have accused President Clinton of sexual assault to the second presidential debate. It was also evident in Trump’s fiery speech Thursday, in which he dismissed the accusations of misconduct against him as “slander and lies” generated by “the Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund them.” According to the source, the Trump campaign is “very proud” of that speech.
“That’s kind of the direction it’s going to take for the next four weeks,” the source said. “Throw down against the establishment and particularly try to beat them up.”
Trump’s strategy is already being severely tested by revelations about the candidate himself. Between interviews with the source on Wednesday and Thursday, three separate publications published four accounts from women who said Trump had touched or groped them without their consent. On Friday, two more women came forward with similar allegations.
But the Trump source played down the political risks of the recent spate of sexual misconduct claims against the Republican nominee, saying that such allegations could help Trump in arguing that he’s a crusading outsider under attack by a fixed system.
“I think it reinforces the fact of — the corporate media/establishment apparatus that we’re against,” the source explained. “Also, remember, you know, we’re not trying to sell Trump to millennial women. That’s the difference. So, does this hurt? We look at it as a positive for the fact of: It’s once again a gang, a pile-on.”
In his remarks Thursday, Trump denied the allegations while framing the stakes of the election as a fight to the death between the “American people” and corrupt pro-trade, pro-immigration “global special interests.” The Anti-Defamation League and others criticized the speech and said this depiction of an all-powerful global elite resembled language used by some anti-Semites.
“Our movement is about replacing a failed and… totally corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people. There is nothing the political establishment will not do, no lie that they won’t tell, to hold their prestige and power at your expense,” Trump began, adding, “For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests they partner with, these people that don’t have your good in mind, our campaign represents a true existential threat like they haven’t seen before.”
Trump began throwing punches soon after leaked video footage from 2005 was released by the Washington Post last Friday. The clip showed Trump bragging that as a celebrity, it was easy to for him to “grab” women if he was attracted to them. The firestorm over Trump’s comments prompted a slew of prominent Republicans to abandon their support for Trump. Trump denied ever having acted upon those comments, but then a series of women came forward saying that they had been victims of such behavior.
But Trump has characterized the loss of GOP support as a blessing in disguise. He boasted Tuesday on Twitter that that “the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.” The source claimed that establishment Republicans are reluctant to take on the Clintons and suggested that, as a result of the defections, Trump felt less of an obligation to “play by the norms that were set up” and avoid personal attacks.
Trump’s all-out offensive is not just designed to defend against the groping allegations or to serve red meat to what the source described as his “populist” and “nationalist base.” According to the source, who requested anonymity to discuss high-level strategy candidly, the attacks on the Clintons are also aimed at the “suppression of votes” from millennial women, African-Americans and the “idealistic Bernie Sanders supporter.”
“Principally, we’re trying to drive them to a third party or just have them not vote,” the source said.
Polls have shown minorities and women all favor Clinton. However, Clinton has struggled with millennials. Many younger voters backed Clinton’s progressive primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The source said that the campaign believes that a one-two combination of Trump’s “populist message” and anti-Clinton attacks can get liberals, minorities and millennials to stay home.
“It’s always been a two-pronged attack, this outsider-agent-of-change message, which we know resonates… that’s this whole populist take on the system. The system is rigged. Hillary Clinton is the guardian of the status quo. You’re getting ripped off, trade deals, the economy jobs, national security border, that mantra. That falls up underneath that. The second part is then: How do you suppress the Democratic vote?” the source said.
That’s why many of Trump’s attacks on the Clinton Foundation will focus on its dealings in Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria. The source described these countries as places where the Clintons “treat blacks as people they can make money off.” The source said Trump came up with this line of attack, which he brought up in the last presidential debate, to appoint a special prosecutor as president and potentially jail Hillary Clinton, as he was conducting an event in Miami’s Little Haiti, where locals were venting their dissatisfaction with the Clinton family’s dealings in their country.
The source predicted that these attacks, coupled with Trump’s “populist message,” would help “get 10 to 15 percent of the black vote,” but said that the move was primarily an attempt to get other African-Americans to stay away from the polls on Election Day.
“Principally, doing that is about suppression of vote. Like, you know, ‘I’m not going to get out of bed. I’m not going to go vote for her,’” the source said. “It’s about the suppression of votes, just to get them to stay home. If we can pick up some votes along the way, that’s fantastic, but it’s really about the suppression of votes.”
That same goal of “suppression of votes” is built into Trump’s attacks on President Clinton’s sex scandals.
“We’re not dependent upon millennial women for victory, right? She is,” the source said of Hillary Clinton. “It’s important for us to suppress the millennial vote for her.”
To do this, the Trump campaign wants to turn Clinton into Bill Cosby, the comedian who was America’s most popular sitcom dad before his reputation was shredded by sexual assault allegations. Even though Trump is battling his own allegations, the source said Trump will cast Hillary Clinton as an “enabler” of her husband’s “sexual predator nature” in an effort to “have millennial women vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein” or not vote at all.
“This whole rape culture thing, Donald Trump can talk about stuff and may have braggadocio, and male bravado, and all that kind of stuff — but she’s living with a guy that’s a sexual predator,” the source said of Clinton. “So, we’re just going back and making him Bill Cosby, because millennial women under 30 don’t remember. They were kids in the ’90s. They don’t remember the Clintons in that era. They have no memory of it, and we’re going to be relentless in bringing that to the forefront.”
The Trump campaign’s efforts to keep millennial women, liberals and African-Americans from voting for Clinton will include a digital advertising push.
“We’re doing a very, very big run of like 30 ads highly targeted to millennial women, Bernie Sanders supporters, etc., that just hits a drumbeat of the corruption, the sexual predator nature, the corruption of the Clintons,” the source said.
The person also predicted that the Trump campaign will introduce more characters from the Clintons’ past to make these arguments.
In an email to Yahoo News, Trump’s son, Eric Trump, offered his “two cents” on the strategy of focusing on President Clinton and the Foundation. The younger Trump is a prominent campaign surrogate among his father’s inner circle of political advisers.
“It has never been so much about Bill’s scandals, but rather what Hillary did to the women in the aftermath. She mocked, investigated, harassed, laughed at and destroyed these women’s lives,” Eric wrote. “As to the Clinton Foundation, it is one of the great Ponzi schemes in U.S. charitable history. Russia uranium deal, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, gold mines, telecom companies — I take charity incredibly personally, and I truly think what they have done is not only illegal but truly horrible from a moral standpoint.”
The Clinton Foundation, citing third-party analysis of the nonprofit, has rejected conservatives’ attacks on its integrity.
Because Trump’s campaign is so concerned about keeping down turnout among young women and African-Americans, his team believes that first lady Michelle Obama could be the most potent surrogate in Clinton’s corner. Obama has been traveling the country touting Clinton to millennial voters. The source said Obama was going to “highly targeted” demographic marketing areas and praised an emotional speech she gave on Thursday about Trump’s alleged assaults as “quite powerful.”
“She’s a much bigger threat than Hillary Clinton because of her charisma, her connection,” the source said of Obama. “I mean she kind of connects like Trump connects, right? She connects like [President] Obama connects. She has a huge connection. … It’s very tough to compete with that … That’s not Hillary. Hillary is a robot.”
Trump has promised to eventually present “substantial evidence” that the allegations were fabricated. Asked about this supposed proof, the source said Trump will do “some bringing up obvious contradictions in the stories” of the women spoke out against him. However, the source said Trump’s defense would chiefly involve shifting the discussion to make it “less about the individual women” and more about media “collusion” with Clinton. On Thursday, Trump called “corporate media” the “most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons” in an effort to serve “a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.”
“You’re going to start hearing in the coming days about the ownership of these institutions and who actually controls them and… how that plays into a globalist perspective versus this nationalist perspective,” the source said.
Trump was clearly deploying that strategy on Friday, when he railed against the New York Times, which has published some of the allegations by women who have said Trump inappropriately touched them. Trump described the paper as one of many media outlets working with the Clintons on behalf of nefarious corporate interests.
“No paper is more corrupt than the failing New York Times. … They are really, really bad people,” said Trump. “The largest shareholder in the Times is Carlos Slim. Now, Carlos Slim, as you know, comes from Mexico. He’s given many millions of dollars to the Clintons. … So, Carlos Slim, largest owner of the paper, from Mexico. Reporters of the New York Times, they’re not journalists. They’re corporate lobbyists for Carlos Slim and for Hillary Clinton.”
Trump also used his remarks Friday to draw attention to the WikiLeaks release of emails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
“The media’s covering up for the Clintons and their many crimes against so many people,” he said. “The WikiLeaks documents show how the media conspires and collaborates with the Clinton campaign. … What a rigged system, folks.”
Podesta has said the FBI is investigating whether the Russian government was involved in stealing his emails. He also accused a Trump adviser of having prior knowledge of the hack.
The high-level Trump campaign source described Podesta’s leaked messages as “just a godsend.” Trump and his team have pointed to many of the emails, including one where Clinton’s campaign seemed to receive advance notice of a CNN town hall question and one that showed Clinton allies apparently joking about Catholics and evangelical Christians. In his speech on Thursday, Trump argued that the messages show that Clinton was involved in a worldwide web of power.
“The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure. We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors,” said Trump. “So true,” he added.
There have been many iterations of the Trump campaign, which has fluctuated in tone and message under a series of three campaign managers. Just last month, Trump’s team attributed the campaign’s gains in the polls to the fact that the candidate had been “more disciplined” and policy-focused. That restrained, positive approach was almost the polar opposite of Trump’s no-holds-barred approach in the final weeks of the race.
But the source said the campaign’s core leadership — campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, deputy campaign manager David Bossie, campaign CEO Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — are all of “one mind” that the right move is to mix Trump’s policies with the aggressive attacks. There has been persistent speculation that Conway has repeatedly pushed Trump to pull his punches and to become more disciplined, but the source rejected this.
“She’s really a fist of steel in a velvet glove,” the source said of Conway.
Trump’s children have also been key advisers on the race. Eric Trump is helping to coordinate some state-level efforts, and Kushner in particular has become a key confidant. Though Trump’s brood has campaigned for him, there has been much speculation about the family’s true beliefs. Asked whether Trump’s family is on board with the campaign’s new thermonuclear war, the source pointed to Kushner.
“I think the way to say that is that Jared is someone that is very close to the campaign operation, so no decisions are made that he’s not in the loop on,” said the source.
Melania Trump demanded a partial retraction from one of the publications leveling misconduct allegations against her husband, but she has not been seen on the campaign trail. She would seem to be a valuable surrogate amid the firestorm enveloping the Trump campaign, although the source noted that she has always had a “limited role” in the campaign and that she would be appearing with Trump at the third and final presidential debate on Wednesday.
While it’s not necessarily clear where every member of Trump’s family and team stands, the candidate certainly seems all in on the plan to launch a major offensive. As he railed against Clinton and the establishment on Thursday, Trump argued that he’s in the midst of a bare-knuckle brawl against the powers that be.
“Their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy. For them, it’s war, and for them, nothing at all is out of bounds. This is a struggle for the survival of our nation,” Trump said, before adding, “Believe me.”