Trump firing keeps GOP guessing

Trump firing keeps GOP guessing
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE is keeping Republicans guessing on Capitol Hill.

The presumptive GOP nominee’s decision Monday to fire his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was just the latest twist in an unorthodox and unpredictable presidential campaign that has kept congressional Republicans constantly on their toes.

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“I don’t know what to make of anything Trump does anymore,” said one House Republican who is publicly backing Trump. “No one really wants to talk about Trump, and there’s no confidence he will improve or help anyone.”

Staffers within the Trump campaign were caught off guard by Lewandowski’s ouster. Trump’s top aide had been on the campaign’s daily 8:30 a.m. conference call on Monday before news broke of his firing, The New York Times reported.

Republicans on Capitol Hill also didn't receive a heads up. Some House members, still back in their congressional districts, said they were completely unaware of what had happened to Lewandowski. Other GOP lawmakers said they were trying to avoid commenting on anything Trump does or says.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” one House surrogate replied when reached Monday. But the source said the move might inject new energy and ideas into a campaign that seemed to stumble out of the gates after Trump won enough delegates last month to clinch the GOP nomination.

Trump and his supporters have spent the past two weeks playing defense after the candidate attacked a federal judge’s Mexican heritage and suggested after the Orlando massacre that President Obama was sympathetic to Islamic terrorists.

“I think heading into the convention the Trump campaign needs to pick up a little momentum. And sometimes fresh ideas can be a catalyst to make that happen,” the House surrogate said.

Another early Trump supporter, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), simply characterized the personnel change at the top of the campaign “a step in the right direction.”

Asked if Lewandowski’s firing signaled a pivot to a more issues-based campaign, as senators have called for, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (R-Utah) replied: “Those of us who have been with [Trump] privately, he's moving very much in that way.”

Sources who’ve been attending the weekly pro-Trump meetings on Capitol Hill said it had become obvious two rival camps had emerged within the Trump campaign: Lewandowski’s and that of Paul Manafort, the D.C. veteran Trump brought on as campaign chairman in March as he prepared for a possible contested convention.

Lewandowski had helped Trump win 14 million votes in the primary, and the GOP nomination that came with it, the sources said. But Manafort, a campaign adviser to six GOP presidents or presidential candidates, was viewed as the guy who could take him to the next level in the general election.

“There was a recognition by Donald that where he was going in primary mode was not going to get him to where he needed to go to win the general,” said a second Trump surrogate who requested anonymity. “There’s been some concern over the past couple weeks” about whether Trump had the right campaign personnel in place and enough people in key states. “Conversations were getting a little louder.”

During the past week, some GOP lawmakers had reached out to Manafort, raising concerns about Trump’s apparent disinterest in voter data. A recent Associated Press story suggested that Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE had an enormous advantage on Trump when it came to critical campaign data used to identify and turn out voters at the polls.

“Paul demonstrates to me a higher understanding about what’s at stake going from14 million votes to the 62 to 65 million votes you need to win the general,” the second surrogate said.

“He's committed to data and 21st century campaigning. He understands where they need to go.”

Trump has agreed to meet with all 247 House Republicans on July 7, a few weeks before he formally accepts the GOP nomination at the party's convention in Cleveland.

Jordain Carney contributed.