(New York Times)– Facing one of the toughest stretches of his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump on Thursday acknowledged in unusually candid terms that he faced daunting hurdles in crucial states, as he swung wildly at Hillary Clinton to try to blunt her questions about his fitness to serve in the Oval Office.
Sliding in the polls, and under attack even by prominent figures in his own party, the usually self-assured Mr. Trump seemed to break character, lamenting his predicament, and even asking for help, before a group of 700 evangelical pastors and church leaders in Orlando, Fla.
“We’re having a tremendous problem in Utah,” Mr. Trump said, alluding to polls showing him in a fight with Mrs. Clinton in that normally deep-red state. “Utah is different.”
In Ohio, Mr. Trump said, “We need help.”
In Pennsylvania, a state he once insisted he would win, he seemed now to hold out hope of an upset that was looking more like a long-shot. “Pennsylvania is a little further, but I think we’ll win Pennsylvania because of the miners,” he said, adding of Mrs. Clinton: “She wants the miners out of business. She wants steel out of business.”
And in Virginia, Mr. Trump said, the result would depend on whether evangelical Christian voters turn out to support him in November. In 2012, he said, evangelicals nationally did not vote in sufficiently large numbers for Mitt Romney.
“Had you voted for Romney, it would have been much closer,” he told his audience. “You didn’t vote for Romney, the evangelicals. Religion didn’t get out and vote.”
Mr. Trump pleaded with pastors and church leaders to organize their congregants and impress upon them the stakes in the election. “We’re going to hopefully win, and the way we’re going to win is you have to get your congregations and you have to get parishioners and you have to get all your people to go out and vote,” he said.
In the same speech, Mr. Trump repeated a hyperbolic claim that he made about Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday and all day Thursday: that she should be seen as aligning herself with enemies of the United States.
As his detractors have described a Trump presidency as a grave threat to the United States, citing his statements calling into question longstanding national security policies and alliances and even his commitment to the Constitution, Mr. Trump is now trying to outdo those accusations with his own warnings about the danger Mrs. Clinton would present.
Where Mrs. Clinton and many Democrats have accused Mr. Trump of parroting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, for example, Mr. Trump is calling Mrs. Clinton a “founder” of the Islamic State.
Instead of saying that her policies as secretary of state helped contribute to the group’s rise — a claim many Republicans have made — Mr. Trump said she should be named the Islamic State’s “most valuable player” for having done so.
At the same time, Mr. Trump is accusing Mrs. Clinton, without evidence, of intending to abolish the Second Amendment — something that she denies and would be constitutionally unable to do as president.
Mr. Trump suggested that turnabout was fair play, mocking Democrats for crying foul for his remarks about Mrs. Clinton and the Islamic State.
Still, these exaggerated claims have drawn attention away from issues that Mr. Trump’s campaign could reasonably hope to gain traction against Mrs. Clinton: He has made only fleeting reference to recently released State Department emails revealing efforts to obtain a meeting for a political supporter, a subject the Clinton campaign has sought to avoid.