When the day began on Tuesday, it was Hillary Clinton’s campaign that was playing a bit of defense in the race for President, after reporters realized that the father of the Orlando nightclub shooter had been put on stage behind the candidate at a rally on Monday in Central Florida.
“This individual wasn’t invited as a guest and the campaign was unaware of his attendance until after the event,” the campaign told reporters.
The story, first unearthed by WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach, looked like it might just keep the Clinton campaign off balance for more than a day.
That should have been the main story from the campaign trail on Tuesday, but Donald Trump again found a way to upstage that possible vulnerability for his November opponent, as he raised eyebrows at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, warning the crowd against a Clinton victory in November.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks,” Trump said. “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is – I don’t know.”
Supporters of Trump said he was joking, or he was referring to the power of gun rights supporters at the ballot box.
The Secret Service meanwhile, issued an oblique comment.
Over on my Facebook page, Trump supporters were outraged that the news media even looked at that Trump line sideways.
“Anyone with half a brain knows he was talking about voting and activism,” said one.
“Lighten up, people! Good grief!” another Trump supporter chimed in. “This man makes a joke people go nuts.”
But others were not as sanguine.
“Whatever he actually meant, it’s not good that his comments need continued clarification,” one Facebook follower said.
Democrats were outraged.
“Don’t treat this as a political misstep,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “It’s an assassination threat.”
“Trump’s comments are not a joke,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ).
A campaign for President is a gigantic operation that calls out for discipline – especially message discipline – and that is something that has routinely eluded Trump.
Just as Trump looked like he might have a bit more focus on Clinton, and how the Orlando shooter’s father got a prime seat at a Hillary rally, Trump gave reporters something else to talk about.
It’s also a reminder that the “news cycle” – which used to last 24 hours or so – now sometimes can live just a few hours, until the next odd thing occurs and ricochets its way through social media.
Every day is an opportunity for each candidate to drive the news cycle. There are less than three months to election day.
Sit back each evening and review the day. Did one campaign do a better job of messaging that day? Did something get in the way of the message? What was social media focused on?
I look at a campaign a lot like a round of golf. There will be difficult moments. There will be times to smile.
The goal is to reduce unforced errors – especially when the day seems tilted in your favor.