It’s 10 days to America’s next presidential debate, but some of Donald Trump’s most ardent admirers agree: he must do better — focus more on policy, and hit Hillary Clinton harder.
Most mainstream political analysts gave Democrat Clinton, the 68-year-old former first lady, senator and secretary of state the upper hand in this week’s television clash watched by 84 million.
The Republican billionaire insists otherwise. But even some of his die-hard fans agreed at a rally in Iowa Wednesday that he could do better on October 9 in St Louis, Missouri.
“I think he needs more gumption,” said retired waitress Martha Killion, 74, in the town of Council Bluffs, separated by just a river from the neighboring Nebraska.
“I can’t believe he that he did not come back and attack her,” she said, recalling the 90-minute slog in which Clinton landed a series of punches on her opponent that left Trump floundering toward the end.
The New York Times reported that campaign advisers, concerned that his focus and objectives had “dissolved” during the debate, plan to drill him on crucial answers, facts and counterattacks for next time.
Iowa supporters agree, recommending he focus more on policy, press home his position as the candidate of change and skewer Clinton over her vulnerabilities.
– ‘Hated to see that’ –
“I think he did OK. But I think there were a lot of other things he should have brought up,” said retiree Larry Storer from Nebraska.
He reeled them off: the Clintons’ past, defense, illegal immigration, the refugee crisis and Benghazi, where Republicans say Clinton should have done more to prevent a deadly attack on the US consulate in 2012.
“He kinda took the bait a couple of times, I hated to see that. But then I think he did handle himself well on some of the other issues,” said Storer’s wife, Carol, a retired phone company worker.
“I think if he just stays on focus and doesn’t take the bait he’s going to be OK,” she added.
But if Trump showed uncharacteristic restraint on Monday in New York he has since reverted to attack-dog mode, lashing Clinton as “crooked Hillary,” corrupt, “incompetent” and failure.
Trump’s entire campaign has been about dishing insults: not just against the country’s would-be first female commander-in-chief, but about anyone who gets in his way: female journalists, Mexicans, illegal immigrants, Muslims and just about every political opponent.
But it is unclear how much television debate performance really matters — either at the ballot box on November 8 or among voters already convinced that Trump is their man.
The prospect of Clinton in the White House is enough to put to bed any lingering doubts about a Trump presidency or a less than stellar performance at the podium against a far more experienced politician.
– ‘Pray hard’ –
Neck-and-neck in the national polls, the Republican is nonetheless ahead in Iowa on 42.8 percent to 37.8 percent for Clinton, according to RealClearPolitics poll average.
Supporters at Wednesday’s rally at the Mid-America Center — in a side room not the much larger auditorium — said he was their only choice on November 8 given how much they despise Clinton.
“You could have 15 AK47s at my head, and I would not vote for that evil, treasonous should-be-in-prison Clinton,” said 51-year-old chef Cynthia McKinney from Bellevue, Nebraska.
“Some of his facial expressions,” she trailed off. “I don’t know how I want to put it, he needs to stop doing that, I think that angers people, and it makes him not look so presidential.”
But although Trump is the most nationally unpopular US presidential candidate in modern US history, Clinton is a close second.