Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico capped off a chaotic month for the Republican nominee, in which he feuded with the family of a killed U.S. soldier, had abysmal poll numbers and saw his campaign chair resign under suspicion of working on behalf of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
After making the deportation of all 11 million undocumented immigrants the foundation of his presidential campaign, Trump seemed to have a different message each day last week. First, he suggested that he was open to “softening” his position, leading to speculation that he might consider allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. Later in the week, he reiterated his original hardline stance ― that undocumented immigrants would have to leave the country, then return, in order to have a path to citizenship. On Saturday he continued in that vein, promising to begin deportations within an hour of taking office.
Trump’s bad August got its start in the waning days of July, when he lashed out against Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004. With his wife at his side, Khizr Khan gave a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention asking what Trump had sacrificed for his country. Trump responded by suggesting that Ghazala Khan “maybe... wasn’t allowed” to speak that night because of her Muslim faith. Khan herself then explained that she didn’t speak because she is still moved to tears just by seeing a picture of her son.
The Republican standard-bearer then turned his sights on his own party, refusing to endorse the re-election bids of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). Trump gave in just three days later and endorsed all three.
Trump, who has made sexist and misogynistic comments throughout his campaign (and for years before that), said he would expect his daughter Ivanka to quit her job if she were sexually harassed. In a separate interview, Trump’s son Eric said that Ivanka simply wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected to sexual harassment.
Trump used August to try and launch a series of bizarre attacks against Hillary Clinton, at one point apparently suggesting that the Democratic nominee should be shot.
“If she gets to pick her judges ― nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. “Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.” Trump also claimed he was unfamiliar with comments in which one of his advisers called for Clinton to be shot for treason, but called the adviser “a very fine person” nonetheless.
The month continued to get worse. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, resigned on Aug. 19 amid questions about his work on behalf of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. The New York Times reported on Aug. 14 that Manafort’s name appeared in a secret government ledger in Ukraine. The Associated Press soon followed with reports detailing how Manafort’s firm had orchestrated a lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine, but failed to disclose the work to the Justice Department as required by federal law.
After Manafort’s resignation, Trump tapped Kellyanne Conway to be his campaign manager and hired Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, as his campaign chairman. Reports soon emerged that Bannon had been charged with domestic violence in 1996 and that he was registered to vote at an empty house in Florida.
Meanwhile, Trump’s poll numbers dropped as he fell behind Clinton in virtually every survey. Adding to the embarrassment was Michael Cohen, executive vice president at the Trump Organization, who seemed to be in denial about the campaign’s numbers in an exchange with CNN’s Brianna Keilar. When Cohen asked repeatedly which polls showed Trump down, Keilar simply said “all of them.” She was correct.
Trump and his campaign also began to question Clinton’s health, peddling unsubstantiated rumors that she was medically unfit to be president. The attack wound up backfiring, leading to increased scrutiny on irregularities in a letter that Trump’s doctor, Harold Bornstein, had sent attesting to his health. Bornstein admitted that he wrote the letter in five minutes while a car was waiting for him.
Various surrogates for Trump, charged with defending and promoting their candidate, also had some noteworthy flubs. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, insisted that Manafort’s departure did not signal turmoil for the Trump campaign because John Kerry also shook up his staff at about the same point in the 2004 presidential election cycle. (Kerry, you’ll recall, went on to lose that election.) As Trump publicly pushed Clinton to release more of her medical records, Ben Carson said that Trump should release his. And as Trump tried to appeal to African-American voters, Mark Burns, a pastor and Trump surrogate, tweeted an image of Clinton in blackface and captioned it: “Black Americans, THANK YOU FOR YOUR VOTES and letting me use you again..See you again in 4 years.”
In an ostensible effort to attract black voters, Trump painted an inaccurate picture of American cities, claiming that life in black communities has gotten so bad that African-Americans would have nothing to lose by voting for him. After Nykea Aldridge, the cousin of NBA player Dwyane Wade, was killed in Chicago, Trump took advantage of the tragedy, tweeting that it was “just what I have been saying” and declaring that “African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”
As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz noted, Trump’s actions took away attention from Clinton at a time when questions continued to linger about her use of a private email server and about whether donors to the Clinton Foundation got preferential treatment when she was secretary of state.
Though it’s easy to assume that Trump’s bad August will hurt him in November, the GOP nominee has said that he could stand in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and shoot people without losing votes. One hopes it doesn’t come to that.