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On The Road Recently, Trump Sticks Mostly To Teleprompter's Message


Donald Trump is shaking up his campaign again. He has brought in the head of the conservative website Breitbart as CEO. He promoted pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort will keep his title. For weeks now, Republicans have been urging their presidential nominee to refocus his campaign as his poll numbers have sunk. But in an interview with WKBT television in Wisconsin yesterday, Donald Trump said, again, don't bet on it.


DONALD TRUMP: I am who I am - it's me. I don't want to change. Everyone talks about, oh, well, you're going to pivot. You're going to - I don't want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you're not being honest with people.

GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith is in West Bend, Wis., where Donald Trump spoke last night. She's on the line with us.

Hey, Tam.


GREENE: So this shake-up - I mean, is this the moment where we're going to see some kind of pivot that a lot of Republicans have been talking about, to a more - I don't know the word to use - traditional campaign?

KEITH: Well, despite what Donald Trump says, the campaign and the candidate, in the last couple of days at least, have been doing things that seem very much in line with a shift. The campaign is, on a daily basis, trying to drive a message. And the candidate, two days in a row at least, has spoken from a teleprompter. Last night, he held a rally here. The vibe was very much that sort of raw energy of a rally. There were chants in the crowd of lock her up and things that are typically at a Trump rally. The only thing that was different was Donald Trump himself. He stuck largely to the teleprompter.


TRUMP: During the last 72 hours, while protesters have raged against the police here in Milwaukee, another nine were killed in Chicago and another 46 were wounded. More than 2,600 people have been shot in Chicago since the beginning of the year and almost 4,000 people killed in President Obama's hometown area since his presidency began.

KEITH: The campaign said the focus of the speech was on law and order, which is indicative of them trying to stick to a cohesive message. The day before, he had been focused on security from a terrorism perspective. Yesterday, it was about security of the inner cities.

GREENE: OK, so staying on message. Tam, Trump there said, here in Milwaukee. I mean, he was speaking fairly close to the city, right?

KEITH: About 40 miles or so away - it definitely was not inner Milwaukee.

GREENE: Well, then here's a question. I mean, the city of Milwaukee has seen protests and violence in recent days after that police shooting of a black man. You know, Trump brings up Milwaukee. Who was he aiming this speech at? Who was the audience?

KEITH: It was not necessarily the people in the room. It was an overwhelmingly white crowd because they were in - it wasn't even a suburb, it was so far out. At times, though, he did seem to be speaking directly to African-Americans.


TRUMP: The Democratic Party has taken the votes of African-Americans for granted. They've just assumed they'll get your support and done nothing in return for it. They've taken advantage of the African-American citizen. It's time to give the Democrats some competition for these votes. And it's time to rebuild the inner cities of America and to reject the failed leadership of a rigged political system. And that's what it is. It's a rigged system.

KEITH: And he accused Hillary Clinton of being bigoted in assuming that African-Americans would vote for her and taking the African-American vote for granted. The Clinton campaign, of course, strenuously objected to that idea and said so in a statement. You know, recent polls show his support among African-Americans is negligible at best. And those numbers appear to be locked in. But there may be another effect of this message that he was delivering last night. As some Democrats attack Trump, saying that his campaign is fueled in part by racism, he was delivering a softer message, delivering a message that might appeal to some white voters, some suburban voters who may be concerned about the racial overtones that they've seen in his campaign.

GREENE: Interesting. Well, Tam, late last night, we learned that Donald Trump - the campaign is going to start running television ads later this week. Normally, that's not huge news at this point in the campaign. But, I mean, so far, we just haven't seen them from his campaign. The Clinton campaign has been well ahead, right? Why now?

KEITH: Well, the Clinton campaign has been vastly outspending him on television ads. And now his campaign is getting into the game. In part, his campaign had felt that this is the time when people are starting to pay attention. But even last night, there were people at the rally talking about the Clinton ads that they'd seen.

GREENE: So, Tam, can Trump still turn things around here?

KEITH: There are 80 days left until Election Day. He could poll things closer in the polls. In the last two days, Donald Trump has done what people say he needs to do on a consistent basis if he's going to have a shot. But this is not the first time that Donald Trump has read a speech from a teleprompter, and we've discussed whether we're seeing a new candidate.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith covering the Trump campaign in Wisconsin. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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