Trump campaign tries un-Trumpian approach to 2020
President Donald Trump is assembling a sprawling, corporate-style reelection campaign with 11 divisions reporting to a single senior adviser, campaign manager Brad Parscale — a top-down structure that represents everything Trump’s improvisational 2016 effort was not.
The organization, described in interviews by a half-dozen Trump top political aides, prioritizes the campaign’s digital- and data-focused strategy, in keeping with Parscale’s expertise. The campaign has hired more than 30 full time staffers so far and has begun building out a surrogate network devoted exclusively to putting pro-Trump talking heads on TV and radio — a move that reflects Trump’s fixation with how he’s portrayed in the media.
Top advisers briefed Trump on the emerging structure Tuesday evening at the White House.
The setup has the hallmarks of a more traditional campaign associated with a president running for reelection. But coming from this ad-lib president — whose 2016 effort was wracked by constant infighting that spilled into the press, no apparent organizational structure, and unclear lines of authority — it marks a major departure from business as usual.
No organization by itself can inoculate the campaign from the omnipresent drama that’s surrounded Trump since he announced for president four years ago. But the campaign sees the structure as an attempt to run as functional an operation as possible.
“I was one of the few members of the original 2016 team with prior presidential campaign experience. While ultimately successful, the campaign was primarily staffed with inexperienced and untested political operatives and often lacked a cohesive organizational structure,” said Michael Glassner, a presidential campaign veteran who serves as chief operating officer on the reelect.
“For the 2020 reelection,” he added, “we have a vastly different operation.”
The plan isn’t without potential downsides. With such a large payroll at such an early stage of the campaign, the campaign runs the risk of over-spending before Democrats have even picked their nominee.
Even before the hiring spree, the campaign’s spending had drawn scrutiny. The reelect spent $2 million more than it raised between the beginning of October and the end of December.
But the Trump team had long planned for the early spending. In 2017, Republican National Committee and Trump campaign officials quietly decided to invest over $10 million — which would have otherwise been spent on midterm races — on a two-year program to identify small donors. The initiative was used to expand the campaign’s list of contributors, whose donations are being used to finance the Trump 2020 infrastructure.
To some extent, Trump is simply exploiting the natural advantages of incumbency. Sitting presidents have long used their perch to prepare for reelection by hiring staff, building a fundraising war chest, and developing a national campaign infrastructure.
Yet at a time when Trump’s poll numbers have ebbed, the intense early planning also reflects the political peril the president is confronting.
“He’s a different kind of president and you have to build a structure that supports him in a tough race,” said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who advised the Trump 2016 campaign and is expected to work on the reelect. “You have to be more flexible and you have to be more ready for things that are unexpected.”
The Trump political world remains deeply unstable and prone to changes in leadership. Many current and former Trump White House officials are convinced there will be turnover at the top as the 2020 campaign intensifies. There’s also widespread concern tensions will flare between the campaign and the administration if either side is perceived as making a mistake.
Yet the new organization is intended to clarify the decision-making structure. And squarely at the top of that chain is Parscale. Each of the 11 department heads will report to the 43-year-old campaign manager, and he will serve as the main point person for Trump and his family.
The Trump campaign named three new department chiefs on Tuesday. White House aide Cole Blocker will serve as finance director, Agriculture Department official Tim Murtaugh as communications director, and Marc Lotter, a former adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, as director of surrogates.
Ten senior staffers are expected to take up residence in the campaign’s 21,000 square-foot Rosslyn, Virginia headquarters by the end of the month. In total, the campaign expects to have nearly 100 people on payroll by the end of the year.
Parscale has quietly been conducting interviews since late last year and has reached out to an array of senior Republicans.
While the organization’s tight structure is reminiscent of past presidential reelection bids, Trump aides say the campaign will be non-traditional in some ways. They point out that two digital strategists, Parscale and Gary Coby, have been tapped for senior roles – an indication that digital and data will form the nucleus of the campaign.
Two other top campaign aides, meanwhile, have launched an unprecedented effort to stave off mayhem at the GOP convention and to ensure that its a smooth running pro-Trump infomercial. Another top official, Chris Carr, is overseeing a field deployment plan that, for the first time, is being run in conjunction with the RNC.
And in another break from precedent, the campaign is planning an early and aggressive effort to brand the Democratic field as being out-of-the mainstream and socialist. The offensive is expected to be spearheaded by a handful of communications staffers working out of the Rosslyn, Virginia headquarters, with assistance from others stationed in swing states.
At the campaign’s request, the RNC has begun funding video tracking efforts of Democrats while they campaign in early primary states.
“Now we’re an incumbent,” said McLaughlin. “But he’s really still a non-traditional president.”