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Trump launches media offensive to rehab image

Trump launches media offensive to rehab image

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Donald Trump has launched a media offensive to address old wrongs as he seeks to unite Republicans around his candidacy and attract new voters.

Trump’s take-no-prisoners style was a hit with Republican voters in the primary, but his willingness to hit below the belt in upending a culture he argues is spoiled by political correctness has alienated conservatives and left him vulnerable with important voting blocs.

In resetting his campaign for the general election, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee is seeking to rehabilitate his image among voters who may have been turned off by his extreme rhetoric.

“This reflects his campaign’s understanding of the obvious — that his high unfavorability rating is unsustainable in the general election,” said David Winston, who served as Newt Gingrich’s pollster for the former House Speaker’s 2012 presidential run.

“The first step you take in correcting that is reaching out to groups to address certain perceptions about him,” Winston said. “It will be a challenge, but it’s not clear that views about him have completely hardened yet, so there’s opportunity here.”

Trump sat for a much-anticipated interview broadcast Tuesday with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, one of the most powerful and popular women in conservative politics.

Trump offered a rare mea culpa to the television news star he famously fought with during and after the first GOP presidential debate, saying he “could have maybe done things differently” or “used different language in a couple of instances.”

It was one piece of Trump’s effort to win over women, who polls show prefer Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential nominee. 

Trump also said he regretted retweeting an unflattering photo of former rival Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi Cruz. And in a Wednesday announcement, Trump included three women on a list of people he’d consider to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

In another example of Trump seeking to self-correct, in an interview with The Washington Post he seemed genuinely worried over accusations that he had mocked a disabled person. At a campaign rally last year, Trump appeared to mimic a New York Times reporter who suffers from a congenital joint condition.

In that same Washington Post interview, Trump said he’d publicly seek to make amends for his slights, real or perceived, at campaign rallies and in speeches going forward.

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Trump would address the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. To win the White House, Trump likely needs a better showing than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney with Hispanics, who polls suggest have been turned off by Trump’s talk about building a wall on the southern border, which he says Mexico will pay for.

The bridge-building comes as Trump also seeks to repair relationships with the Republican leaders he torched on his way to the nomination.

Trump has been courting Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in hopes of winning his endorsement, and he met with dozens of lawmakers, including Ryan, on a whirlwind trip through Washington, D.C., last week.

Many of those lawmakers told The Hill they were impressed by Trump’s demeanor and his willingness to listen to the concerns they have about his candidacy.

Republicans view Clinton’s unpopularity as one of her primary weaknesses. But that weakness is neutralized by Trump, who is even less popular.

A USA Today-Suffolk poll released last month found only 28 percent of voters view Trump positively, with 61 percent viewing him negatively. Clinton had a 37-54 split in the same poll.

A Gallup poll from late March found that only 12 percent of Hispanics have a positive view of Trump, while 77 percent view him negatively.

And an April poll from Gallup found that 70 percent of women view Trump unfavorably, with only 23 percent saying they had a positive view of him.

“That’s a huge problem and a terrible place to be,” said Winston. “Women make up a majority of the electorate. At this point, the best asset Trump and Clinton have is how unpopular the other candidate is.”

Trump will need to move quickly, as Democrats are already looking to define him and capitalize on his weaknesses.

This week, Priorities USA, the largest pro-Clinton super-PAC, launched its first two television ads against Trump.

Both ads, which are part of a multimillion-dollar media buy set to run in swing states, feature Trump’s past controversial remarks about women.

Republicans say that if Trump is to maximize his appeal, his outreach will have to extend beyond women and Hispanics.

Some social conservatives remain skeptical of Trump. They don’t believe he has stood up for them in the fight over transgender bathroom laws, and they’re alarmed by his soft rhetoric on abortion.

John Hajjar, co-chairman of the American-Mideast Coalition for Trump, says there is opportunity for Trump if he’ll consider reaching out to moderate Muslim groups.

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“Absolutely we’d like to see that,” Hajjar said. “Look, he’s built his campaign on being politically incorrect, but he’s also tapping into sentiments that a lot of Americans feel. I think now that the nomination is his, you’ll start to see him be more presidential or refine some of his positions even if his targets stay the same.”

Of course, Trump’s outreach is likely to remain true to his core style, rough edges and all.

“I think if I didn’t conduct myself in the way that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t have been successful, actually,” Trump told Kelly. “If I were soft, if I were presidential — in a way it’s a bad word, because there’s nothing wrong with being presidential — but if I had not fought back in the way I fought back, I don’t think I would have been successful.”

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