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Clinton Returns To Trail After Pneumonia Recovery; Trump Backs Down On Birther Stance

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A week in politics in which an old, untrue allegation resurfaced. Donald Trump said, quote, "President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period." Then he went on to allege that Hillary Clinton began the infamous birther movement. Glenn Thresh (laughter) - I beg your pardon. Glenn Thrush - who will never be back with us again - of Politico joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

GLENN THRUSH: Great to be here.

SIMON: Quite a scene - Donald Trump at his hotel and RickRolled (ph) - should I explain that to our older listeners?

THRUSH: I think you have to.

SIMON: RickRolled - a kind of bait-and-switch in the national press.

THRUSH: Well, we had 20 minutes of advertising for his new hotel, not far from the White House. He had told the national media that he was going to make a big announcement, and he did. Of course, the big announcement was to refute a fake (laughter) allegation that he had made for the past five years. Really, the foundation of his appearance recently on the national political stage was bringing up this birther notion, this lie - as The New York Times called it on the front page. And instead, we got 20 minutes of him standing in front of veterans groups and talking about how great his hotel was. And the cable networks, which have been at this for 18 months, have seen him do this routine over and over and over, fell for it again.

SIMON: I want to ask you about something he said last night, which I don't - I know it's kind of sometimes hard to rank comments as to where they fit on the outrage scale but he said - he suggested that Hillary Clinton's Secret Service detail should disarm. And he said, I'll quote again, "take their guns away. Let's see what happens to her."

THRUSH: It's just dumb. It degrades the process. And for those of you who have access to YouTube, you should take a look at an image, which is pretty startling, when a protester rushed Donald Trump a few months back and see what his reaction is. I just think this kind of stuff degrades the process. But, Scott, it gets to a really interesting point.

The problem with Trump, and this is what Jeb Bush and all the other Republicans found out, is when he generates so much outrage, he short circuits his own opponents. They're incapable of attacking him because they are so flustered by these sorts of attacks. They spend all of their time clutching pearls. The problem here is, can Hillary Clinton pivot and go back on the offense?

SIMON: Well, she's back on the campaign trail after taking a few days off for illness, and there are declining poll numbers. How does she address that? How is she trying to address it?

THRUSH: Well, I guess, the question is, is this a peak? You know, her numbers fell down in the summertime when she essentially went dark, got off the road to raise money. And obviously, she had this terrible incident where she swooned on September 11. But I think there is a sense - and I've talked with a lot of senior Clinton advisers over the last couple of days - that there does need to be, if not a strategic shift, a change in tone. I think one of the problems is they have spent so much time relying on Donald Trump stepping on his - stepping on his own tongue and saying outrageous things that they have failed over and over again to establish a connection between Hillary Clinton and the American people.

The other issue here is I think there is a sense of - again getting back to this outrage issue - a sense that he has said so many outrageous things that people will simply respond to that and oppose Donald Trump on that basis alone. I think instead what they're talking about now is making this case that he's a huckster, that he is lying to the American people and that they will - he will ultimately betray them.

SIMON: Twenty-five seconds we have left. We're going to follow this with a piece on some of the high-profile surrogates that Hillary Clinton has had, including Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Do high-profile surrogates suggest panic or do they help align themselves with strength?

THRUSH: No, this is what was anticipated. And I got to say, Michelle Obama stands head and shoulders above the rest. But the bottom line here, Scott, is the candidate herself needs to establish a connection with voters. They can enhance it, but she really has to improve her performance significantly.

SIMON: Glenn Thrush, chief political correspondent for Politico, thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.