Nominees' Families Face Intense Final Weeks

Nominees' Families Face Intense Final Weeks
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Melania Trump may have forsaken campaign appearances, but Donald Trump’s children and Bill and Chelsea Clinton are all powering through Labor Day and into the campaign homestretch, serving as sought-after advisers, surrogates and fundraising draws.

President Clinton is slated to be the Labor Day stand-in for his wife in Detroit next week, according to the Detroit News (Hillary Clinton will be celebrating Labor Day in Ohio). And daughter Chelsea is billed as the headliner for a glittering rooftop fundraiser Sept. 6 in Manhattan mixing high fashion with singer-songwriter Demi Lovato. (Co-hosts are listed as Vogue Editor and bundler Anna Wintour and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin).

The 42nd president, busy defending the Clinton Foundation against reports of donor ties to the State Department during his wife’s tenure as secretary, remains a popular draw for Democrats at small rallies and among small- and large-dollar contributors. 

The Clintons, who have spent much of the late summer passing their hats for the campaign’s autumn efforts to goose voter turnout and prepare television advertising, helped other party stalwarts in August pull in a combined $143 million for the campaign, the Democratic National Committee and state parties. The campaign banked $62 million, its best fund-raising month of the contest, a total haul cheekily credited in part by Campaign Manager Robby Mook to Trump -- for creating “new opportunities for Democrats up and down the ticket.”

Dressed in a casual, red-checked shirt and swaying to “Hey Jude” alongside his wife, Bill Clinton enjoyed a VIP fundraiser in the Hamptons last week featuring live performances by Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi and Jimmy Buffett. The Democratic nominee, who plans to crisscross battleground states in September and October, concentrated on her platinum Rolodex as the summer ended. 

The Clinton campaign declined to discuss Bill Clinton’s upcoming campaign schedule. He ventured to Atlanta and through red-state Texas in late August to raise money in Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, an indication of how far afield the former president can travel on behalf of his spouse.

In comparison, the campaign booked President Obama to barnstorm solo for Clinton in safely Democratic Philadelphia on Sept. 13, while Vice President Joe Biden has been appearing in blue-collar territory in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Bill Clinton’s Role on the Campaign Trail

Bill Clinton has not shunned reporters, who peppered him in Texas with questions about the Clinton Foundation. Instead, he calmly defended the charity’s global work and touted his announced changes to the foundation’s board and donor policies, should Hillary Clinton become president. Critics, including editorial writers for the New York Times and elsewhere, have argued the Clintons should shutter the charity and off-load its programs to other organizations before voters may elect to send them back to the White House.

“I’m really proud of what we did, and nothing that’s been said in the last few days has done anything to dampen it,” Bill Clinton told journalists in Dallas and elsewhere in his travels.

The former president remains a complex conundrum on the trail. Hillary Clinton tells voters she is a nominee running on her own agenda, not as a third-term stand-in for Obama, nor an appendage of her husband. But she also reminds Democratic supporters about the go-go economy of the 1990s and her husband’s economic expertise, and she leaves little daylight, with the exception of trade, between her policies and those of the current administration.

Bill Clinton continues to be a favorite target of GOP critics, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who, while defending Trump against accusations of race-baiting, accused Bill Clinton of taking racially tinged shots at Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primaries.

“It was Bill Clinton and [Hillary Clinton’s] campaign in 2008 that questioned the success of Barack Obama, not based on his talent but based on his race. It was their campaign,” Priebus told NBC News on Sunday. “Why can't we start judging these people based on what they actually did?”

While Hillary Clinton struggles with a marked trust deficit with voters in recent polls, her husband, older now and mostly a stranger to younger voters, has capitalized on his amiable-elder-statesman and grandpa personas along the campaign trail.

But as his wife’s campaign marches on, the political undertow has impacted Bill Clinton’s standing in polls. Eighty-four percent of Democrats said they have a favorable view of the 42nd president, but among Americans at large, he is viewed both favorably (49 percent) and unfavorably (46 percent). That near-even split is considered by the Gallup Organization to be unusual among former presidents (Bill Clinton does better among female respondents than among men).

His two terms in office, while marked by investigations, impeachment and acquittal, are nevertheless viewed by many voters as a period of relative peace and prosperity for the country. Bill Clinton, who knows better than to raise the notion directly, is viewed by some voters as a reassuring guide along the sidelines, should his wife become president.

When women from Columbus, Ohio, who said they were undecided about the election, were asked in August to describe Hillary Clinton’s strengths, Donna, a participant in a Walmart Moms project conducted by pollsters, pointed immediately to Bill Clinton.

“That’s the only thing she’s got going for her,” she said.

During another August focus group conversation in Milwaukee that included men and women, Dara, a 47-year-old Independent voter who said she was leaning toward choosing the former secretary of state, compared Bill Clinton to a lion. 

“King of the jungle,” she said.

Trump Backer: “You Can’t Fake Good Kids”

Mirroring their father’s approach to campaigning, Donald Trump’s children have maintained a robust presence since the Republican National Convention, responding through social media and during television interviews, amplifying the campaign’s messaging. In advance of Trump’s immigration speech Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. made the rounds on cable news to promote his father’s interests, and on Thursday, he was back on air to defend his father against Hillary Clinton’s campaign attacks.

Eric Trump, too, has remained a regular guest on cable news as a spokesman for the nominee and his policies. And he recently ventured with his wife to woo potential voters and Trump supporters, attending the opening of a campaign office in Clarks Summit, Pa. He gave interviews to local media and tweeted photos of Trump volunteers’ headquarters.

Since her well-received speech to GOP delegates in Cleveland in July, Ivanka Trump has maintained a lower profile, vacationing last month in Croatia with her husband, Jared Kushner. During an interview last month with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, she answered questions about her place on the close-knit Trump team, which shed a few top players during the summer, including Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort, replaced by newcomers Kellyanne Conway, a pollster with expertise in women voters, and conservative media adviser Steve Bannon from Breitbart News.

“My role is daughter,” Ivanka Trump said. 

Kushner, a campaign influence and Donald Trump defender since the primaries, was spotted on the trail Wednesday, accompanying his father-in-law during the nominee’s surprise meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico. 

Behind the scenes, Ivanka Trump and her brothers make no effort to cloak their services as occasional advisers and influencers as Donald Trump navigates his first foray in electoral politics. Ivanka’s celebrity and glamorous image as a working mother and businesswoman, including her advocacy for tax policies to defray childcare costs, is seen as a plus. A Gallup survey early in August pegged Ivanka’s favorability rating at 49 percent, on par with Chelsea Clinton’s.

Potential Trump voters, especially women, view Ivanka as the more self-contained and cool-headed Trump within the tabloid-famed family.

During the Milwaukee focus group last month moderated by Democratic pollster Peter Hart of Hart Research for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a woman described Ivanka as a kind of role model for Donald Trump, wondering wistfully if the candidate could exhibit similar self-control. 

Sheri, a 51-year-old compliance analyst registered as an Independent, said she was concerned the GOP nominee’s flame-throwing style was incurable.

“With Donald I feel -- I love Ivanka,” she told the group during a discussion about Trump and trust. “I mean, I just think he has this beautiful daughter who’s so poised and speaks well and cares for her father, but I just feel … can he change that much?”

While Donald Trump’s children are active on his behalf, his wife Melania has been less so. Since the campaign acknowledged that parts of the former model’s convention speech had been lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention address, the third Mrs. Trump all but disappeared from the trail. The couple was spotted dining at a Manhattan restaurant a month ago, but Melania’s more recent notoriety arose from media dissections of her pathway from Slovenia to U.S. citizenship, and her libel lawsuits challenging media outlets’ accounts she worked as an escort in the 1990s.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found the public had not warmed to Melania, noting her 1 percent net favorability was a particularly low assessment for a presidential candidate’s spouse. The only spouse deemed more unpopular in recent times was Hillary Clinton, in Janary 1996.

In a July Gallup poll, Melania Trump received the worst ratings of any prospective first lady Gallup has measured since 1992: 28 percent favorable to 32 percent unfavorable,  a -4 net score.

But Melania Trump has also expressed a preference to keep the campaign trail at some practical length, in part because she says she is helping to raise Barron, her pre-teen son with Donald Trump. “I made that choice,” she told Harper’s Bazaar during an interview published in January.

Because Donald Trump fell behind Clinton this summer in most national and battleground polls -- and with Election Day around the corner -- some GOP allies suggested Trump’s family could play a larger (and positive) role for the GOP ticket this fall.

“My suggestion is: Get the family out more. As much as they have energy to do it, they ought to be [campaigning],” said former Rep. Jack Kingston, a Trump adviser.

Trump’s children can be character witnesses for their father and his values, the former Georgia congressman told RealClearPolitics. “You can’t fake good kids.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at


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