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Team Trump’s New Command

Do you have a brain in your head?

Have you been paying attention to the campaign the last few months?

If you answered “yes” to both of these questions then you saw this one coming.  President Trump, in a Wednesday announcement via social media, has officially replaced Brad Parscale with Bill Stepien as manager of his 2020 reelection campaign. 

So why should this not be a surprise to those of us paying attention?  Because the President’s poll numbers in recent weeks have been in the tank.  According to one recent poll conducted by NBCNews/WSJ, the former Vice-President has an 11 Point lead on the President nationally.  Additionally, the President’s job performance rating and voters who say they’re satisfied with the way the country is going are at the lowest points they have been during Trump’s presidency.

Other warning signs include the Tulsa rally which Mr. Parscale boasted had a million ticket reservations but only ended up being at half capacity.  And then there was a planned New Hampshire rally which had to be called off.

Brad Parscale has been involved with the Trump political machine from the start.  In 2016 he was in charge of digital advertising.  When President Trump announced plans to run for reelection, Mr. Parscale was tapped as campaign manager.  In that time, he has built an organization that’s showed itself far more professional and less chaotic than the 2016 effort.  Additionally, he has built a campaign largely fueled by small donations.  While being replaced as campaign manager may not have been at the top of his wish list, the current plans are that he will remain on board as a senior consultant in charge of digital and data management.

Like Parscale, Bill Stepien’s involvement with the President goes back to the beginning.  The first time around, he was the campaign’s national field director.  Since then, he has been the White House Political Advisor.  In May of this year, he joined the reelection effort as Deputy Campaign Manager.  Prior to joining Team Trump, Stepien managed both gubernatorial campaigns for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Additionally, he served in Christie’s administration as Deputy Chief of Staff and was involved in the Bridge scandal that rocked the governor’s administration in 2014.

For better or worse, these types of personnel changes at the top are typical for Trump.  In 2016, he went through no less than three campaign managers.  These were: Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Kellyanne Conway.  Conway is the only one of those three still with the President today.  During his time in the White House, Trump has likewise cycled through four Chiefs of Staff.  These were Reince Priebus, John Kelly, Mick Mulvaney (Acting), and Mark Meadows (current). 

For many Trump supporters, this move couldn’t have come soon enough.  Doug Deason, a Trump Donor and Dallas area businessman said in the Wall Street Journal, “The need was there, the President recognized it, and pulled the trigger quickly.”  Additionally, Mr. Deason expressed hope that the new campaign manager would be able to reign in the President’s abundant use of social media.  Specifically, it is his hope that the President will run his Tweets through “fact checking” before posting them. 

Another voice of influence is that of Home Depot co-founder, Bernie Marcus.  Politico reports that last month Mr. Marcus had dinner with the President and suggested a change like this was needed.

Perhaps the most influential voice, however, was that of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and one of his chief advisors.  Kushner is very familiar with both Parscale and Stepien and is thought to be have been the strongest proponent of this shakeup. 

In the end, though, a change of personnel does not change the facts on the ground and it is these facts on the ground that have put the President in the tight spot he’s currently in.  Specifically, voters are dissatisfied with the way the President has dealt with the Coronavirus.  The economic downturn that was the result of the virus is also hurting his numbers.  And the civil unrest in recent weeks also reflects badly. 

None of these are insurmountable though.  With each issue, the President can legitimately lay fault at the feet of Democratic Governors.  But doing so with so little time left and after voters have already cemented the opposite notion in their minds will be an uphill battle at best.  It is this task that Mr. Stepien now steps into. 

Fortunately, there are several things going for him.  First is the President’s war chest.  With ample campaign funds Team Trump can carry their message anywhere they need to.  As long as these dollars are spent wisely, then there is a good chance that an aggressive advertising campaign can reverse the currently bad numbers. 

Second, the Trump campaign is blessed with a weak opponent.  Thus far, Biden has not been beating Trump, Trump has been beating Trump.  The campaign, at this point, needs to refocus its energy on exploiting Biden’s weaknesses.  These are: a long record to attack, an inability to keep up with Trump on the campaign trail, difficulty with public speaking, and questionable mental health.  The first of these is open for attack all day long.  The other issues, however, are not open for direct attack but can be utilized by forcing Biden out into the open where voters will see these weaknesses first hand. 

The best opportunity for this will be the debates.  Once voters actually see the two candidates side by side it will be a huge bonus for Trump.  The Biden camp recognizes this too and will try to find a way out of these debates.  Trump must not let this happen because it will be his best chance to reverse these poll numbers.

Presidential Campaigns are interesting things to analyze.  Sometimes, the conclusion is obvious and can be seen months in advance.  Obama’s defeat of McCain in ’08 is an example of that.  Other times, the campaigns go neck and neck right to finish.  The Bush victory in 2000 is a good example here.  This one is hard to categorize so far.  The numbers would seem to indicate that this is already a sealed deal for Biden.  But Mr. Biden’s weakness as a candidate coupled with Mr. Trump’s documented history of pulling off upset victories casts a long shadow of doubt over that conclusion.  Mr. Stepien now finds himself in the situation where he can turn that doubt into a reality.

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