By Dana Bash, Gloria Borger and Eric Bradner
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — Some of Donald Trump’s advisers are discussing an overhaul in how he prepares for his second face-off with Hillary Clinton, and one option being floated internally is asking Chris Christie to take a leading role to get the Republican nominee ready.
The New Jersey governor, a long-time friend of Trump’s, is one of “the few” in the billionaire’s inner circle who has always been straight with him, and was “brutally honest” about his shortcomings after this week’s debate, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
There’s no sign that everyone in the campaign agrees this is the right path forward. There’s been a round of recriminations within the campaign amid fallout from the debate. Christie told CNN no request has been made.
“I have not been asked to do anything new, and as far as I know, there is no new debate prep scheduled,” he said.
He reiterated that point when asked later Thursday by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Nothing’s been asked of me to do more. If there is, I’d certainly have that conversation with Donald Trump at the time, but I’m not going to presuppose anything at this point.”
Asked about the discussion, campaign manager KellyAnne Conway said Christie is “not currently under consideration.” Christie is also one of the few in Trump’s orbit who has recent experience on the debate stage — with Trump as one of his competitors — during the GOP primaries. His takedown of Marco Rubio was one of the primary campaign’s most memorable exchanges.
Such a move — should it happen — would reflect an understanding by Trump and his campaign leadership that the first debate went poorly. That sentiment was expressed to CNN by multiple sources close to Trump, even as the campaign urged surrogates Wednesday to argue publicly that Trump performed well Monday night.
Leading up to that debate, Trump’s prep sessions included a relatively large group of people, according to a source familiar with the sessions. Campaign chairman Steve Bannon was technically in charge, but in practice, Trump led them, according to sources.
Although Trump pushed Clinton hard on trade in the first 20 minutes of their debut debate, she took control after that, landing clean shots at Trump over his refusal to release his tax returns and his treatment of women — highlighting a former Miss Universe whom Trump had publicly cajoled to lose weight.
Trump, meanwhile, repeatedly interrupted Clinton — but never brought up lines of attack like the 2012 Benghazi attacks and the Clinton Foundation’s ties to the State Department, which Republicans view as central to their case against Clinton. He also never broached the topics of immigration or appointments to the Supreme Court, which could have helped him with conservative voters.
On Wednesday, Trump was angry that his aides and advisers have conceded to reporters — largely without attribution — that he had struggled in the first debate, repeatedly taking Clinton’s bait instead of pivoting to issues that could put her on her heels.
In a conference call with surrogates Wednesday afternoon, Trump aides made clear the Republican nominee was upset that his allies publicly acknowledged they pushed him to change his preparation and tactics before the second debate. And he wanted them to stop it immediately.
The message was “not subtle,” a source familiar with the call said: Trump wants his supporters to make an energetic defense of his performance and refuse to concede that he didn’t nail it.
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller denied the account.
“The entire description of today’s call is completely false and anybody saying otherwise is just making it up,” he said.
Trump’s campaign circulated talking points to surrogates instructing them to claim he had successfully reinforced his outsider status in the debate. Those talking points show the campaign’s message on the debate is: “What the American people saw in the debate was an agent of change versus the status quo.”
Trump’s campaign also sought in the talking points to recast Clinton’s performance by saying the Democratic nominee sounded “rehearsed, memorized and scripted — not authentic or genuine. She speaks on behalf of special interests and crooked donors.”
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