ST. LOUIS — Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, made a grand proclamation when he strode into the spin room to talk with reporters following Sunday night’s presidential debate.
“It was the greatest debate victory in the history of the United States,” Miller said of Trump’s performance against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The debate came after an unquestionably bad weekend for Trump following the publication of a 2005 video leaked from the set of a Hollywood talk show that showed him boasting about trying to “f***” and “grab” multiple women. Trump’s remarks on the clip led a slew of Republicans to withdraw support for his campaign. The video also earned a condemnation from Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who subsequently canceled a campaign appearance and fueled rumors that he might even leave the ticket.
Trump raised further questions about the status of his relationship with Pence on the debate stage, where he contradicted the governor’s position on Syria.
The break came when a moderator, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, asked Trump about a comment Pence made in last Tuesday’s vice presidential debate. Pence suggested that the U.S. should attack Syrian military targets if that country’s government continues to have its ally, Russia, attack civilians.
“He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree,” Trump said of Pence. “I disagree.”
Trump has previously said the U.S. should work in conjunction with Russia, which supports the Syrian government, to fight the Islamic State terror group in that country.
Afterward, top Trump campaign aides denied reports that the running mates were not on the same page.
“Gov. Pence himself has said from the beginning that Mr. Trump makes the decisions as commander in chief when it comes to national security,” Miller told Yahoo News.
Miller also said Pence would definitely remain by Trump’s side.
“He’s campaigning every single day, every day fighting harder than anyone in the world so we can beat Hillary Clinton, and we will in November,” Miller said of Pence.
A campaign source told Yahoo News that Pence will be making multiple cable news appearances supporting Trump on Monday morning. Pence is also scheduled to appear at two campaign events in North Carolina later on Monday.
Sean Spicer, the chief strategist for the Republican National Committee and an adviser to the Trump campaign, said there “shouldn’t be” any questions about Pence’s loyalty to the ticket. RNC staff members have overseen many key functions for the Trump campaign and, in the wake of the leaked video, NBC News reported that party chairman Reince Priebus was telling staffers who were considering jumping ship to do “what’s best” for them. Spicer said this was “100 percent not true.”
“There is no staffer that is being told anything other than ‘Do what you can to win,’” said Spicer.
While Spicer insisted the party organization is still onboard, a number of prominent Republican elected officials abandoned Trump in the wake of the video. Spicer said he hoped that rift could be healed in the election’s homestretch.
“I think that in the final 30 days, I hope that Trump can earn their support back and show there’s a greater contrast between the two candidates and the policies and the vision they have for the country,” Spicer said.
Others clearly believe that Trump and his latest firestorm have done irreparable damage to the party. Shortly before the debate, former RNC chairman Michael Steele tweeted a short video of a mushroom cloud and wrote that it represented the “GOP at this moment.”
“I would respectfully disagree,” Spicer said of Steele’s tweet.
— Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele) October 10, 2016
Adding to the pressure, there has been speculation that further damaging videos of Trump could be revealed from behind the scenes of his reality show, “The Apprentice.” Omarosa Manigault, who starred on that show and has advised Trump’s campaign, said she is confident there will be no troubling clips from “The Apprentice.”
“I’m not concerned at all because, first of all, I’ve been a part of the franchise since the first episode,” Manigault said.
Manigault dismissed the leaked video of Trump as an “October surprise” and said she was “more concerned” about Clinton’s record as secretary of state, including her use of a private email server and her handling of the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Trump and his campaign surrogates repeatedly tried to turn the focus to Clinton and her personal issues at the debate. Just before the event, Trump appeared at an unannounced press conference with three women who have accused Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexual abuse or harassment. In the spin room, Miller stressed that Clinton herself had criticized many of her husband’s accusers.
“They wanted to come and tell their stories because of how Hillary Clinton shamed and attacked and smeared them,” Miller said.
A top aide for the Clinton campaign dismissed this attack as a desperate move from a flailing candidate.
“I think Donald Trump came with a goal of trying to throw Hillary off her game in order to save his fledgling campaign, and I think what you saw is Hillary focused on the issues … while Donald continued to melt down,” said Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of states and political engagement.
Marshall laughed off Miller’s assertion that Trump won a debate “victory” of historic proportions.
“I think it’s hilarious,” said Marshall.
But one top Trump adviser took a page from the Clinton campaign when Yahoo News asked about purported discord and Pence’s position on the ticket. As she moved through a crush of reporters and cameras, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway borrowed the Clinton campaign’s slogan to describe the state of Trump’s team.
“Everybody’s together. As they say, stronger together, hashtag!” Conway quipped.