POLITICS

Tulsa Rally Failure May Spark Trump Campaign Team Shakeup

“The president is not going to pay for losing campaign strategy,” a former campaign adviser said.

Poor attendance at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday night has President Trump increasingly frustrated with his campaign manager, Brad Parscale and considering shaking up the re-election team, according to sources familiar with the issue.

“The president has diminishing confidence in Brad,” the former adviser said of Parscale, who served as the campaign’s digital director in 2016. 

According to the former adviser, Trump, who is “getting madder by the day,” has recently made dismissive comments about Parscale’s experience. Prior to working with Trump, Parscale worked at a web design and marketing company he founded in San Antonio, Texas. He was named campaign manager of Trump’s re-election bid in early 2018.

“I’ve been in the room when Trump refers to him as ‘the website guy.’ …. And that’s not that long ago. It’s a problem for Brad,” the former campaign adviser said of Parscale.

Multiple sources said Trump is also considering giving more responsibility to two other top campaign staffers — Jason Miller and Bill Stepien. Earlier this month, Miller, who was Trump’s communications director in 2016, was hired to be a senior adviser. Stepien, who has worked for the Trump campaign and the White House since 2016, was recently promoted to deputy campaign manager. The sources said either of the pair could serve as potential replacements for Parscale or be granted greater power behind the scenes. 

Parscale did not respond to a request for comment. Miller dismissed the idea Trump was dissatisfied with Parscale and mulling changes to his campaign strategy as “fake news.” He also suggested the Tulsa rally was a success compared to Biden’s campaign, which has held off on large events since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Brad has built an amazing team and the Biden campaign is in full meltdown trying to explain why Trump had 11,990 more supporters than Biden did at their last event,” Miller said. 

Fire marshal’s in Tulsa said Trump drew under 6,200 people at the BOK Center, which can hold about 19,000. The Trump campaign also prepped for overflow crowds by setting up an outdoor stage where Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to make speeches prior to the rally. Those remarks were scrapped and the stage was dismantled after no crowds were left outside the venue. 

Parscale later blamed the more modest attendance on coronavirus and media coverage that he claimed warned “people away” to avoid sickness and violent protests. The campaign manager also suggested demonstrations “blocked access,” a claim which has been debunked

The rally was set to be the country’s largest indoor event since the pandemic led to lockdowns and cancellations of major gatherings across the country. Oklahoma saw a spike in cases of COVID-19  in the days leading up to the event and the Trump campaign announced on Saturday that six staffers who were in Tulsa to set up tested positive. 

Whatever caused the attendance to fall below the campaign’s expectations, the rows of empty seats were an embarrassing sight, particularly given Trump’s infamous preoccupation with crowd sizes. Parscale’s prior social media boasts that 800,000 people signed up for tickets added to the negative headlines, as did claims an anti-Trump campaign led by teens on TikTok was behind this large number (though there is no data supporting those claims.)

As Biden’s position has improved in the polls, multiple reports have appeared of tension on Trump’s team, and of the president’s growing frustration with Parscale, even before Tulsa. This included a story published by CNN in late April that Trump “shouted” at the campaign manager about his poll numbers. Both Trump and Parscale subsequently denied the outburst occurred.  

The former campaign adviser said Trump felt “poorly served” by recent advice from his aides including the execution of the Tulsa rally and the handling of his appearance at St. John’s Church earlier this month, which took place after protesters were tear gassed and cleared from the surrounding street. According to the adviser, Parscale’s lack of political gravitas made it hard for him to question Trump when the president has his own ideas that might not work. 

“Brad never has experience to point to and offer a counterpoint when the president has a bad instinct,” the adviser said.

Still even as the former adviser and other sources suggested Trump could be mulling a shakeup, they all warned against counting Parscale out entirely and noted the campaign manager’s support from members of the president’s family. The former adviser pegged Trump’s daughter in law, Lara Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president’s son, Don Jr., as strong supporters of Parscale. Both Lara and Guilfoyle work for the Trump campaign. 

“If Trump wanted to get rid of Brad, I think Kimberly and Lara are an impediment to that,” the former adviser said. 

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, also plays a key role on the campaign — albeit in an unofficial capacity — and has a good relationship with Parscale. A person familiar with Kushner’s thinking told Yahoo News that Trump’s son-in-lw is close to Parscale and is unlikely to be eager for him to leave the campaign.

Parscale has been widely credited with masterminding a data and social media strategy that was a key component of Trump’s 2016 victory. He has also been paid handsomely for his work for Trump.

However, veterans of Trump’s initial White House bid have noted his limitations. In November 2016, just after Trump won, former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, who worked with Parscale’s data operation, spoke candidly with Yahoo News about his limitations.  

“I would go on the record effusively praising Brad and saying that he has been great to work with. I would also go on record saying Brad had never worked in politics before and he would even admit that he knew almost nothing about politics before this,” Walsh said. “There were a lot of times when Brad would admit, ‘Yeah, I don’t know.’ But he’s a really smart guy. What I love about Brad, to be totally honest, is that Brad admits what he doesn’t know.”

The former campaign adviser who discussed the president’s frustrations also offered a simple prediction about how Trump will react if he continues to lose ground to Biden.

“The president is not going to pay for losing campaign strategy,” the former adviser said.

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