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Trump's Week Off Script


DONALD TRUMP: Now I'm spending a fortune for the general election. Oh, you better elect me, folks. I'll never speak to you again.


TRUMP: Can you imagine...


TRUMP: Can you imagine how badly I'll feel if I spent all of that money, all of this energy, all of this time - and lost?


Could there be signs that Donald Trump's unwavering confidence is wavering? That was Donald Trump from a rally last night in Connecticut. This weekend, The New York Times reported that there is frustration in the Trump campaign and complaints that the candidate is not staying on message. We've got NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro here in the studio with us this morning to talk about the latest developments in the race for the White House.

Hi, Domenico.


MARTIN: It was a big week for week for Trump when it comes to headlines, even for Trump. Let's tick through a few. He made Second Amendment comments in relationship to Hillary Clinton and then saying President Obama founded ISIS and then, most recently, on Friday, suggesting if he loses, it's going to be because of voter fraud. Right? Tell us more about that.

MONTANARO: Yeah. He called on supporters to sign up as poll-watchers to make sure other people don't, quote, "vote five times." He said the only way he can lose is if, in certain sections of the state, they cheat. Now, of course, this prompted outcry from voting rights advocates who charge that Trump is encouraging potential voter intimidation. The Trump campaign, though, dismissed that, telling NPR that these poll-watchers will help ensure lawful voters can vote and that many states permit campaigns to have credentialed observers.

MARTIN: OK. So clearly, he's feeling a little bit defensive, you can imagine. Also this comes at the same time The New York Times has put out this piece suggesting that Trump's closest advisers are trying desperately to get him to make this pivot for a general election and focus on the issues. What struck you about this?

MONTANARO: Well, look - this is not the first kind of reporting on any kind of meeting that people are having behind the scenes. There have been a few of these efforts to try to get Trump to stick to a script. In multiple meetings, they've tried to get him on track. You know, it works for a while, but it fits a familiar pattern. Trump, you know, says a controversial thing. His family and Republican leaders try to get him to rein it He delivers a scripted speech. He gets itchy and throws out the script. And I, frankly, don't see any evidence of why it would change.

MARTIN: Let's pivot to Hillary Clinton? She made some news - released her tax returns Friday. In doing so, she's trying to pressure Trump to release his tax returns, clearly. But it was still interesting, in and of itself, these returns. She and Bill Clinton made more than $10.5 million last year. Almost 7 million came from giving speeches. It even listed Bill Clinton's profession as speaking.

MONTANARO: That's right. I mean, the Clintons have made more than $150 million over the past decade, almost exclusively from speeches. You know, when I checked on Powerball, it's actually almost double the Powerball jackpot. So that's a lot of money. And these - you know, they've been criticized for cashing in on public service. And Clinton is trying to become the most powerful person in the world. Their charity - they gave most of the money to charity to their own Clinton family foundation. There was criticism for that.

And that wasn't all this week. There were the Clinton emails. A conservative group, Judicial Watch, released another batch. And these showed a potential blurring of the lines between Clinton's work at the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. One person was helping run the foundation, tried to set up a meeting between a Clinton donor and someone at the State Department. So this is a potential issue for the Clintons. And - but it's something that Donald Trump has overshadowed with all of his own controversies.

MARTIN: And she's got a lead in the polls.

MONTANARO: Well, look - the problem is that Trump, in this sort of New York tabloid culture of thinking any headline is a good headline, has gotten him to the point where he's far behind in the polls. Clinton is up nationally by an average of 6 points. And most especially, in key states, Clinton is still holding onto a pretty big lead and extending her lead there.

MARTIN: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.