Last night, news broke that Donald Trump had sidelined campaign manager Brad Parscale and promoted longtime aide Bill Stepien. Parscale’s role, according to reports, had been greatly diminished since the disastrous Tulsa rally, an event that gave the media plenty of opportunities to attack the campaign for not living up to its promises.
Long before that, though, there was plenty of evidence to suggest the campaign was rudderless. Its candidate was unable to stay on message, and crisis after crisis has dominated the spring and summer leading up to Trump’s re-election bid in November. Several leaked reports (and not just from The Usual Suspects) suggest that the White House and campaign teams were both worried, and the polling does not look good for Trump at all.
In other words, Stepien’s got his work cut out for him.
If multiple reports coming out of the campaign are true, then Parscale was more a symptom than a plague on the campaign, though he was a symptom that should have been removed long before this. The real problem appears to be the influence of Jared Kushner, who seems to be guiding a campaign built on appealing to caricatures of conservatives rather than trying to expand the base and get others to vote for him. Trump’s base will not abandon him, but the anti-Clinton vote of 2016 is currently not very motivated to re-elect the President and appears poised to not only oust Trump, but many Senate Republicans.
Kushner is not a deep thinker. He comes from money, has lived with money all his life, and exists in a world that feeds off Trump’s approval. There is no easy way to say it, but if Kushner really is as involved with the campaign as the reports suggest, then he is killing his father-in-law’s chances of re-election.
There is an old trope in Republican circles that you have to win the moderate votes in order to win the presidency. That trope got us moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney and John McCain as presidential candidates. Trump’s victory was not some great coup of that theory, but a signal that the moderates did not want what the Democrats were offering. But now that Trump is up for re-election, he has to convince them to stay with him. Meanwhile, the country is collapsing behind him as he tells us everything’s fine.
It makes me wonder how involved Kellyanne Conway is. She helped Trump win in 2016, and that same self-control Trump showed in the latter part of that campaign is completely absent here. If she were involved, maybe he’d have a shot. But as it stands, it doesn’t look like it.
Perhaps Stepien can offset some of the damage in those moderate strongholds (like the suburbs), but ultimately Trump has to rely on forces beyond his control in order to win in November.
Forces like COVID-19, the economic recovery, insane progressive activists, and his own attention span.