With just 13 days until the Nov. 8 election, former Gov. Haley Barbour said he’s still behind Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump but lobbed criticism at the candidate and the way he has managed his campaign.
Speaking on a panel before a room of business leaders and the state’s top lawmakers, Barbour cited a recent poll saying 61 percent of Americans viewed Trump unfavorably and 53 percent viewed his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, unfavorably. Given these high negatives, Barbour said, these candidates would do better to keep their names out of the headlines.
“The difference is the Clinton campaign has spent the last six months trying to make the election about Trump, and Trump has spent the last six months making the election about Trump,” Barbour said. “He has done nothing to expand his base.”
Barbour spoke on the Red and Blue Panel, part of the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event which gathered hundreds of business and political leaders at the Mississippi Coliseum on Wednesday. Barbour was joined onstage by fellow Republican and State Party Chairman Joe Nosef, State Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak and Democrat Burns Strider, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
The panel focused on the ongoing battle between Clinton and Trump.
“I think (Clinton’s) campaign has been designed to say, ‘This candidate is not trustworthy. You may want change, but not this change,’” Barbour said. “But (Trump) also made it harder to vote for him. Once you get to 70 and your ego and self-image is such, it’s not going to change. And I think that’s part of what we’ve seen from Trump not appealing to the people (like candidates) we’ve seen before him.”
Nosef, a longtime Trump supporter, agreed with Barbour, arguing that the campaign has been more about personality than issues, which continues to hurt Trump.
“If someone would take his phone away, his polls would start going up. Or maybe change his Twitter password. I just wish we were talking about policy,” Nosef said.
Not focusing on issues hurts Mississippians, in particular, because Clinton’s platform runs counter to what Nosef said many in this red state want.
“There’s the bottom line, if Hillary gets elected she’s going to be against what the majority of Mississippians are for in almost every case: taxes, regulation, religious freedom, it doesn’t matter,” Nosef said.
“I think maybe Mr. Trump believes the things that helped him win the primary are enough to help him win the general, but I think he realizes now it’s a very different animal. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
The odds of a Clinton win surfaced throughout the discussion, and both Nosef and Barbour acknowledged Trump’s disadvantage. As of Wednesday, poll aggregator Real Clear Politics had Clinton leading Trump by 5.6 points.
If Trump loses this election, it’s a huge missed opportunity, according to Barbour and Nosef. Barbour cited another poll from Real Clear Politics which said that 65 percent of the country was disappointed with the direction of the country under President Barack Obama. Barbour said people’s dissatisfaction has been backed up by the country’s sluggish growth, which has not exceeded three percent since President Obama took office in 2008.
“I point that out to you to show that people have a reason to be mad and be scared, and the biggest manifestation of that in our party was Donald Trump,” Barbour said. “Many people in both parties wanted to shoot Washington the bird, and they thought Donald Trump would be a good way to do it. … So I make this point to you, people have a right to be mad. The way it’s manifesting itself is not what I would choose.”
Barbour’s unenthusiastic endorsement stood out more because of the contrast with the Democrats sharing the stage, who spoke in detail about Clinton’s experience and skilled campaign strategy.
“We have a former secretary of state who loves policy to a point of talking you to death and back about solving a problem. She has a history as a senator of compromise, and her work in Mississippi and Louisiana, working after Katrina, is profound and on the record,” Strider said.
Although an Economist/YouGov poll earlier this month showed that 55 percent of Sanders’ supporters still have a negative view of Clinton, Moak praised the Clinton campaign’s ability to unite Sanders supporters behind her.
“One of the things Clinton did immediately after the convention was tap into the (Bernie) Sanders group – and it looks like that has worked, that it is actually coming together for her benefit,” Moak said. “On the other side, I think had the Republican nominee been able to tap into the 16 other ground games of the people he beat in the primary, that would be a great benefit to him today.”
But the one thing uniting both Democrat and Republican panelists was a belief that this campaign season has inspired some particularly nasty rhetoric.
Strider said watching the recent presidential debates with his two young sons had been an uncomfortable experience.
“I feel we need counselors with us each presidential debate to talk about language and how you talk to each other,” Strider said. “In my home, with these debates, sometimes I cringe. I don’t think a United States presidential debate should be that way.”
“I hope that we get this out of our system this year. I hope most Americans say, ‘I never want to see another campaign like that,’” Barbour said.