“If you look at it,” Donald Trump told Fox and Friends about the Clinton Foundation, “it’s pay-for-play.” Looping in the e-mail scandal after being asked about Colin Powell, Trump responded, “Everything’s a scam with them [the Clintons] — like grifters.” Not only should the Clinton Foundation be shut down now, Trump said, Hillary “never should have been allowed to run for president to begin with.”
At least Trump spent part of the morning firing in the right direction:
Trump released a statement this morning that made it appear that the Clinton Foundation would be the message of the day, if not the week:
“Hillary Clinton is the defender of the corrupt and rigged status quo. The Clintons have spent decades as insiders lining their own pockets and taking care of donors instead of the American people. It is now clear that the Clinton Foundation is the most corrupt enterprise in political history. What they were doing during Crooked Hillary’s time as Secretary of State was wrong then, and it is wrong now. It must be shut down immediately.”
And he elaborated more in this interview:
“Well, number one, they should shut it down, and number two, they should give the money back to a lot of countries we shouldn’t be taking — and they shouldn’t be taking money from,” Trump said. “Countries that influenced her totally and also countries that discriminated against women and gays and everybody else. I mean, that money should be given back. They should not take that money.”
“Look, these are very greedy people. These are people that have skirted the law for a long time. Hard to believe that, you know, somebody like this has a good chance, you know — a fairly good chance of being President,” he added.
Rather than keep focus on the Clinton Foundation, however, Trump simultaneously started a fight with MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. He amplified an already-floating rumor about their relationship in response to criticism from the Morning Joe pair:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2016
Sigh. Is this what a presidential candidate wants voters to see as one of his priorities — the personal lives of two television hosts? That’s not just punching down, it’s punching air. More importantly, though, Trump has given the media yet another excuse to shift attention away from the campaign message of the day and focus on peripheral issues that go to temperament and judgment.
Not surprisingly, his followers defended Trump on the basis that he can “walk and chew gum at the same time,” but that misses the point. Hillary is vulnerable on the Clinton Foundation, but most of the media has been reluctant to do deep dives on the corruption within it. Trump can force some coverage, even if it comes out in the “have Republicans overreached” flavor. But by attacking other media figures, especially on nonsensical issues and private lives, Trump gives them an excuse to ignore the substantive attack and focus on the nonsense.
Trump has eleven weeks left to make the election a referendum on Hillary Clinton. Voters will respond to that. They’re not going to respond if Trump makes the election a referendum on whether Joe and Mika had an off-air personal relationship beyond friendship. Team Trump has to get its candidate focused on the real fight before time runs out.