WASHINGTON - Aides and campaign staffers of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are becoming increasingly frustrated by his seemingly inability to stick to a coherent message and strategy, media sources quoted people close to his campaign as saying late Tuesday.
Reports says campaign staffers are upset over a series of missteps and controversies by the Republican standard bearer, including Trump's continuous battle with Khizr Khan, the Muslim father whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004, and comments during an interview Tuesday with the Washington Post newspaper in which he said he will not endorse two leading Republican lawmakers, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Arizona Senator John McCain in their re-election bids. Ryan and McCain have both endorsed Trump, but have publicly rebuked him over his criticism of the Khans.
Khizr Khan gave an emotional speech at last week's Democratic National Convention condemning Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country, as his wife stood silently by his side, and the couple have continued speaking out against Trump in a several interviews.
New York Times reporter John Harwood said on Twitter that he learned from an ally of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort that Manafort is no longer “challenging” the candidate, and that staff morale has plunged, which he described as “suicidal.” CNN reported that Trump campaign staffers “feel like they are wasting their time.”
Trump’s behavior is beginning to push some prominent Republicans to the breaking point. Meg Whitman, a prominent technology executive who launched an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship in 2010, told The New York Times late Tuesday that she will support and raise money for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, calling Trump “a dishonest demagogue.” And U.S. Representative Richard Hanna of New York became the first sitting Republican member of Congress to throw his support to Clinton.
The endorsement of Clinton by Whitman and Hanna came hours after President Barack Obama took the unprecedented step of a sitting president denouncing a presidential candidate, when he called Trump “unfit to serve” as the nation’s commander-in-chief. Obama also took Republican leaders to task for continuously distancing themselves from Trump’s comments, while maintaining their endorsement of his White House bid. In a typical response, Trump tweeted that Obama "will go down as perhaps the worst president in the history of the United States.”
Trump added another controversy to his growing list Tuesday when he accepted a Purple Heart medal from a retired lieutenant colonel before the rally in Ashburn, Virginia. Trump said the former soldier told him the gesture was intended to show confidence in him.
The Purple Heart is given to a U.S. serviceman or woman wounded in combat, or posthumously given to someone killed in battle. It is a sacred U.S. military tradition.
Trump, who expressed regret for never serving in the military, said he was honored by the soldier's gift. The audience chuckled when he said he had "always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier."
But a spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart organization, John Bircher, was not amused.
"It is absolutely horrible for anyone to wear or have the Purple Heart medal who is not entitled to it," Bircher told CBS News.
"Donald Trump did not get the Purple Heart and there's no 'easy way' to get it. I don't think he has any clue as to the meaning of the Purple Heart medal."
Criticism of Trump has also come from across the Atlantic in the form of French President Francois Hollande, who told journalists in Paris Tuesday that the Republican nominee’s “excesses” as sickening, and warned that Trump’s election will have consequences around the world.
Meanwhile, another controversy will continue to dog Trump through the campaign season. Federal judge Gonzalo Curiel rejected a request by Trump’s attorneys to dismiss a lawsuit against the billionaire accusing him of defrauding students who had enrolled in his real-estate investing school, Trump University. Trump accused Curiel back in May of being unable to fairly preside over the case because of his campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Curiel is a U.S.-born citizen of Mexican descent.
The election is still four months away, but attention to the controversies has distracted from discussion of Trump's policy proposals and to a certain extent Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's as well. Time they each spend answering questions about Trump's comments takes away from opportunities to focus on each other or tell more voters what they would do if elected president.
Recent public opinion polls indicate American voters are viewing Clinton more favorably in the aftermath of last week's national party convention, even as they continue to question her honesty and trustworthiness.
The latest CNN/ORC poll showed the former U.S. secretary of state with an edge over Trump on who would better handle several public policy issues, including the economy, immigration, health care and fighting Islamic State terrorists. Clinton gained ground on all four issues over Trump from the last poll conducted by the cable news channel.
CNN said Clinton has pulled even with Trump on who would be best at handling terrorism and holds a marked edge over him on setting U.S. foreign policy.
A CBS News poll shows Clinton with a significant edge over Trump on the question of which candidate is better prepared to be president. The survey showed voters believe Clinton, by a 60 percent to 37 percent margin, is prepared, while only 35 percent say Trump is prepared and 61 percent said that he is not. The CBS poll said 57 percent believe Clinton has the right temperament and personality to be president, but only 31 percent agreed that Trump does.
Clinton's campaign continues to be weakened by perceptions that she is less than honest and trustworthy, although surveys have shown that Trump also fares poorly on the same question. The CBS poll said 34 percent of voters it surveyed viewed Clinton as honest, while 60 percent did not. Trump had a 36 percent favorable rating on honesty, 59 percent negative.
Carolyn Presutti and Kenneth Schwartz contributed to this report.