Clinton's illness goes faint as Trump shows new lack of discipline

Trump on Clinton's health: 'It's quite sad'
Trump on Clinton's health: 'It's quite sad'

This could have been a morning when the media focused on Hillary Clinton's illness after the Democratic nominee appeared to faint at a Sept. 11th memorial ceremony and had to be helped into a van.

It could have been a day with new questions centered on Clinton's lack of transparency after her campaign waited two days to disclose a pneumonia diagnosis and originally told reporters the candidate had just felt "overheated" before disappearing from the media for hours. It could also have been another day centered on Clinton calling half of Trump supporters "deplorable" racists and xenophobes.

But Donald Trump appears incapable of simply stepping back and allowing the focus to stay on his wobbling opponent. Instead, Trump called in to CNBC's "Squawk Box" and made a series of wild statements about the Federal Reserve and the presidential debates that will at least in part put the spotlight back on him — but not in a positive way.

Trump's commentary will not erase Clinton's rough weekend from the news but it allows Democrats to hammer him once again and give pause to wavering moderate and well-educated Republicans who want to support the GOP nominee but have serious and ongoing questions about his fitness to serve.

Hillary Clinton attends the September 11 Commemoration Ceremony on September 11, 2016 in New York City.
Getty Images

On the Fed, Trump claimed Chair Janet Yellen was keeping rates low "to get Obama retired" and that "to a certain extent I think she should be ashamed of herself." He also said the Fed "is obviously not even close to being independent."

To say this is nonsense would be a gross understatement. As any serious observer knows, the Fed has been desperately trying to raise rates to a more normal footing to regain the ability to act when a new recession arrives. It moved in December but has held off since in the face of mixed economic data, low inflation and threats from abroad including the Brexit vote.

More recently, some Fed officials have been trying to nudge markets toward the idea that a hike could come next week. Discussions at Fed meetings do not include commentary on the presidential campaign as Minneapolis Fed President and former George W. Bush administration official Neel Kashkari told CNBC following Trump's remarks.

Trump did not stop at the Fed in his "Squawk Box" interview. The GOP nominee also made the ludicrous suggestion that the upcoming presidential debates be held with no moderators. "I'm going to get — be treated very, very unfairly by the moderators," he said. "I think we should have a debate with no moderators — just Hillary and I sitting there talking."

Forget the fact that this would never work. They would just have a little chat over coffee? How would they decide what to talk about? How could anyone be sure they'd ever get to issues that voters care about? Even professional wrestling matches have referees.

More importantly, the comments suggest that Trump is afraid of the debate moderators and getting asked tough questions, never a great look for a presidential candidate.

Trump's bizarre interview comes as polls show the presidential race tightening nationally and in key swing states including Nevada and New Hampshire. But these polls also show Trump in tight races in traditionally red states including Arizona and Georgia as his historic weakness with nonwhite voters threatens to put areas in play that would be very safe territory for a more traditional Republican nominee.

All of this suggests that Trump cannot afford the kind of freewheeling, unvarnished comments like the ones he made on "Squawk Box." His margin of error in putting together 270 electoral votes is paper-thin. He needs to win Florida, Ohio and almost certainly Pennsylvania if he is to overcome Clinton's strong electoral college advantage.

But to do that, he needs to display a kind of discipline that doesn't just thrill his already committed supporters but that draws in undecided voters who don't like Clinton but are uncomfortable with the notion of a Trump presidency. On Monday morning, Trump showed he doesn't have anything close to that kind of discipline and is uninterested in trying to develop it.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.