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Friday, 4 November 2016

Trump stays on message, and the message is about Clinton

Donald Trump had just boarded his jet in Wisconsin on Tuesday night when he began his usual post-rally routine.

Settling into the main cabin of his personal Boeing 757, with its plush leather seats and 24-karat gold fixtures, the celebrity businessman fixated on the in-cabin television, flipping through the cable news channels to see what they were saying about him.

Clicking from CNN to Fox News and then back again, Trump grew more and more irritated —angered by what he perceived to be unfair coverage of his campaign versus Hillary Clinton’s—until finally, according to an adviser, someone suggested they switch to the World Series or something else that might not make the candidate’s blood boil.

Trump, who feeds as much off the energy of his large crowds as he does in “hate watching” the media, as one person close to him describes it, stubbornly refused. But in what many around him took as a hopeful sign heading into the final stretch of the campaign, the Republican presidential nominee did not turn to Twitter to vent his frustration, as he would have in the past.

And in recent days, Trump has resisted his own worst instincts in other ways as well. On Tuesday, Clinton campaigned with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whose accusations that Trump fat-shamed her sparked a pre-dawn Twitter meltdown by the GOP candidate a few weeks ago. But he didn’t take the bait, ignoring that and other pointed attacks from Clinton and her allies in the past few days that normally would have provoked a tirade from him.

What has changed? Aides say tightening polls have boosted Trump’s mood, making him less surly on the stump. But at the same time, he has been on the road with advisers who have long pressed him to be more focused. Among them: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chief who is now the campaign’s chief executive.

Taking the stage Wednesday night in Pensacola, Fla., against a backdrop of exploding stage pyrotechnics that seemed more fitting for a rock show, Trump kicked off his rally with a pep talk to himself that seemed to hint at the marching orders being drilled into him by his staff.Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Fla. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

“We’ve gotta be nice and cool, nice and cool. Right? Stay on point, Donald. Stay on point. No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy,” Trump said, as Bannon and Kushner stood watching from the side of the stage.

“I’ve been watching Hillary the last few days. She’s totally unhinged,” the candidate added. “We don’t want any of that.”

On the stump, the easily distracted Trump has been noticeably more on message — or as much as a candidate who hates using a teleprompter can be. Though he still regularly breaks from his prepared remarks — often to attack the “dishonest media” to the delight of his supporters — Trump has been more pointed in making his case about why he should win the White House.

The candidate who used to regularly spend his rallies litigating feuds dating back to the GOP primary has settled on a Clinton-focused speech hammering her for her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, now the subject of a renewed investigation by the FBI.

Meanwhile, Trump has expanded his attacks on “Crooked Hillary” to invoke the idea of a Clinton presidency that would be too weighed down by scandal and investigations to get anything done. Since last weekend, Trump has repeatedly predicted that if Clinton wins, “it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis.”

“Here we go again with Clinton, the impeachment and the problems,” Trump declared at a rally Thursday in Jacksonville. “She is likely to be under investigation for many, many years, also likely to conclude with a criminal trial.”

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