Trump World boils over as campaign hits skids
President Trump’s allies are urging him to change his tone and key figures in the campaign’s orbit are pointing fingers over who is to blame for the president’s spiraling poll numbers with just over four months to go until Election Day.
There is frustration in Trump World over the president’s lack of discipline and his confrontational tone during a time of high anxiety over the coronavirus and civil unrest around the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
Some Trump allies are worried that campaign manager Brad Parscale is in over his head. And there is sniping between pro-Trump outside groups about whether their money is best spent propping up Trump or tearing down presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Ed Rollins, the chairman of the Great America PAC, a top outside group supporting the president’s reelection, said the course correction starts with Trump. He said the president faces certain defeat if he does not convey more compassion and focus on a message that expands his coalition to include women and independents.
“The message is weak or nonexistent. The rambling on about Biden and Pelosi or Clinton and Obama is old and tired. This needs to be about the future, not the past,” Rollins said.
“He needs to show empathy, which he hasn’t, and project strength by doing what Reagan, Thatcher and Churchill did with strong speeches. Not macho bullshit, but thoughtful solutions to serious problems. This is about the future, not what the Democrats did in the past. Make people be concerned with what [Democrats] can do with total control of the government, House, Senate and the White House.”
The heightened tensions come as polls show Trump’s support eroding among Republicans. A Marquette University survey of Wisconsin found Trump’s GOP support plunging 10 points, from 93 percent to 83 percent, pushing Biden to a 9 point advantage in the battleground state.
Independents, women and suburban voters also appear to be rallying behind Biden, who has run up a double-digit lead in national polls. Biden leads by 6 points or more in four of the six core battleground states, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
“No one is panicking yet, but there is an urgent sense that this needs to get straightened out,” said one Republican who speaks with Trump. “I think the campaign is spending too much time defending itself and not enough defending the president. I think they could use a shake up.”
Worries over the direction of the campaign intensified following Trump’s rally last weekend in Oklahoma.
The campaign invested heavily to build an outdoor stage for Trump to address an overflow crowd that never materialized, while inside the president was greeted by large swaths of empty seats after officials spent days boasting about ticket requests exceeding 1 million despite the pandemic.
Finger-pointing has ensued over the episode, with much of the blame falling on Parscale. Campaign officials have downplayed that any change is imminent, but some advisers have questioned if Parscale, who built his reputation as the digital guru of Trump’s first White House run, is the best man for the job.
“You need a group of individuals who can come in and form a nucleus of leadership at the campaign,” one adviser to the president said. “That doesn’t mean you necessarily need to remove Brad, but put him in the role where he has the best ability to succeed, which is in the digital realm.”
The campaign has added experienced staff in recent weeks, elevating Bill Stepien to deputy campaign manager and hiring Jason Miller as a senior adviser.
“I would ask, is Brad Parscale the Corey Lewandowski of the cycle? Kind of the starting pitcher and runs the campaign through six innings but is replaced down the stretch,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser and CEO of oil drilling company Canary.
“If we’re calling a spade a spade, the chairman of the campaign is Jared Kushner,” Eberhart added, referring to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. “I think [Parscale] does a great job overall, but I think this is a tough business and I think Trump is prone to overreacting to media coverage.”
Several Republicans defended Parscale, saying he is not responsible for logistics around the rallies. They noted that the campaign’s chief operating officer, Michael Glassner, oversees the operational side. Regardless, they said they’re confident the next rally will go off without a hitch.
And campaign officials have argued the Tulsa rally was a success despite the controversy and underwhelming attendance. They noted the president still managed to draw thousands of supporters while Biden remains confined to virtual and smaller events. The campaign raised $10 million around the event and millions of people tuned in to watch it on Fox News, giving the network its highest-rated Saturday night ever.
“The pathetic attempt by the Biden campaign and media to sow dissention [sic] within our ranks only proves that Biden’s handlers are scared to turn to their own candidate’s nearly 50-year career of failure — and they’re not wrong,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager said in a statement.
Zager cited the strength of the campaign’s digital presence and ground game, noting the Biden campaign only recently bolstered its staff in key states.
Campaign insiders stressed that they did not believe Parscale was in imminent danger of losing his job. The campaign manager still has the support of Trump’s family, and he is deeply integrated into the campaign’s digital and fundraising operations, making him difficult to replace.
But Rollins described the campaign as “adrift” and argued that it needs to be more nimble in ad-making, resource allocation and in recruiting senior GOP officials to act as prominent surrogates for the president in battleground states.
Parscale is overseeing his first-ever campaign, and critics said that even a symbolic move to add additional experienced advisers up top would soothe some concerns.
“It matters symbolically and it matters operationally to have someone in there who has actually run a campaign,” said the Republican who talks with Trump.
The frustrations have also boiled over to the big-money outside groups that are working to get Trump reelected.
The largest of these groups, America First Action, has raised more than $100 million this cycle and has $56 million in cash on hand.
But some in Trump World have been grumbling about being outspent early on by Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC, which boasts about having matched the Trump campaign’s advertising spending for most of 2020.
America First has committed $10 million to anti-Biden ad buys in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and an additional $27 million in Florida and North Carolina. The ads have largely attacked Biden on trade and China, with the first independent expenditures coming in early April. The group has run $16 million in ads attacking Biden in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania over the past three months.
Rollins, who runs the rival Great America PAC that has raised and spent about $40 million in support of Trump since 2016, said Trump needs reinforcements and that America First should be spending money to lift him up, rather than to tear Biden down.
“The in-house super PAC has not raised what it should and wasted money and become a dumping ground,” Rollins said. “They need to quit being so cocky. With 130 days left they will lose this thing without doing something drastic.”
America First Action PAC President Brian O. Walsh said that it’s better to focus on the economy, which is the top issue for many voters, and to define Biden negatively on that issue early on.
“We firmly believe the most important role America First Action can play is to help define the choice in this election by focusing on Biden, thus giving the campaign the flexibility to deploy their impressive financial resources as they see fit,” Walsh said.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.