Why this campaign shakeup will not steady the ship for President Trump

Why this campaign shakeup will not steady the ship for President Trump
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE abruptly demoted campaign manager Brad Parscale last week and announced that deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien would replace him. This sudden shakeup, taking place only a few months away from the election, indicates that Trump is in trouble. Faced with falling numbers and the disappointing Tulsa rally turnout, his campaign is now struggling to develop and communicate a unifying message.

Regardless of who is leading the effort to win a second term for Trump, his campaign will need to make a case to voters that centers on a message of inclusion, a plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and a strategy that will help workers and businesses recover from the financial downturn. By almost every indication, Trump has reason to be worried. Joe Biden leads by eight points in national polls, according to Real Clear Politics.

It is clear that Trump needs a substantial shift in strategy to win, but he regularly ignores advisers and veers off message. It is unclear how much more effective Stepien will be at refocusing the campaign compared to Parscale. But Trump is certainly no stranger to staff turnover, both in his administration and in his campaign, as we have seen before.


His 2016 campaign experienced many changes at the top, from Corey Lewandowski to Paul Manafort to Kellyanne Conway to Steve Bannon. However, the position of Trump after serving one tumultuous term is dramatically different from four years ago when he ran as an insurgent candidate. The president and his campaign, however, are struggling to develop and communicate a convincing message to voters.

Moreover, in the midst of a pandemic and a racial justice movement on par with that of the 1960s, there is a message of conciliation that Trump eschews. This is reflected in his weak polling position and declining job approval ratings. Only 41 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing, while 56 percent disapprove, according to Real Clear Politics. In the end, the shakeup will probably not make a difference.

During the Tulsa rally, Trump spoke for almost two hours to a smaller than expected crowd. He struggled to offer a convincing and positive platform. Instead, Trump used the opportunity to pander to his base and speak off the cuff, concerningly claiming that he told officials in his administration to slow down coronavirus testing, even while the pandemic continues to take an increasingly deadly toll across the United States.

Ultimately, it is worth noting that another key element of his strategy will be making the election a major choice between him and Biden, and not a referendum on his leadership, which is what Biden and the Democrats are doing with some success. In addition to going negative on Biden, this will also require Trump to develop a positive message for his candidacy that can contrast with the platform of Biden and the Democrats.

Trump attempted to do so without success in a dark and divisive speech last week. He warned that Biden and the Democrats want to destroy the suburbs, a clear attempt to sway white voters, a group that Trump won in 2016 but has now defected, while also stoking racial divisions.


To be sure, the vast majority of Americans agree with Trump on the need for law and order, as he and Richard Nixon put it. Most voters agree with the absurdity of defunding the police. However, if Trump simply asserts that Biden somehow supports insurrection and such defunding efforts, that is not credible and ultimately does not assist his candidacy.

With only a few months until the election, it is still possible for Trump to be more inclusive and conciliatory. But without a positive message that finds common ground for a deeply divided country, he will not be able to maximize support, regardless of who is managing his campaign.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book is “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”