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Assault on America, Day 566: Campaign switch in leaders isn’t a retreat, it’s a redeployment

Trump’s decision to make a change at the top of his campaign was not going backwards -- it was moving forward around the flank

How can I ask this army to retreat now, in the face of what they have done this day?” -- General Robert E. Lee (played by the horribly miscast Martin Sheen in the movie Gettysburg).
“Not retreat. Redeploy.” -- General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger was terrific in the role).

It's old news by now, but President Donald Trump’s campaign made a long-anticipated shake-up at the top last week. For months there were reports that Trump was incredibly unhappy with the never-ending bad news on the polling front, signaling that change was imminent. Never one to dawdle long when action is called for, Trump removed Brad Parscale from his post as Campaign Manager and installed someone more experienced with large political operations.

Spencer Neale, Rob Crilly, & Katherine Doyle reported at The Washington Examiner, “Amid sluggish polls that show him struggling to find footing against Democratic rival Joe Biden, President Trump announced he will promote deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien to campaign manager.

“The president shared on Wednesday that current campaign manager Brad Parscale will become a senior adviser to his reelection campaign and will also continue his work leading the digital and data strategies team. Some analysts had predicted Parscale could be demoted after Trump's first campaign rally since the coronavirus began in March was sparsely attended in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“’I am pleased to announce that Bill Stepien has been promoted to the role of Trump Campaign Manager,’ Trump wrote on Facebook. ‘Brad Parscale, who has been with me for a very long time and has led our tremendous digital and data strategies, will remain in that role, while being a Senior Advisor to the campaign. Both were heavily involved in our historic 2016 win, and I look forward to having a big and very important second win together. This one should be a lot easier as our poll numbers are rising fast, the economy is getting better, vaccines and therapeutics will soon be on the way, and Americans want safe streets and communities!’”

Even the candidate’s announcement was signature Donald Trump, making it sound like demoting a guy who’d led the effort for two years was merely redeploying his resources. It’s true, Parscale basically moved back into the position he’d held four years ago, but it’s a stretch to claim this was simply moving chess pieces back and forth across the board. The one (Parscale) making the moves wasn’t getting the job done and it was time for a trade.

Campaign managers are a little like head football coaches in that respect. The latter are typically extremely knowledgeable in one aspect of the offense or defense, but need to rely on others to function in an advisory capacity in practice and on game day. The top guy decides on whether to take penalties (or decline them), if the team should go for it on fourth down and how to manage the clock, but the assistants oversee personnel packages and formation implementation.

Some head coaches also double as the offensive or defensive coordinator, but it’s a lot of work to wear two hats simultaneously. Here’s thinking that Parscale’s digital mastery is still valued by Trump and his “team,” but his spur of the moment decision-making left something to be desired. Let’s just hope the early season “losses” haven’t hurt the organization’s chances to win another trophy. It could be that we’re not even out of preseason yet. Time will tell.

The polls are indeed somewhat of a disaster. Shockingly, Grampa Joe Biden holds solid leads beyond the margin of error nationally and in several key “swing” states that must be won on Election Day. While it’s only July and the real campaign season hasn’t yet begun, the candidate’s ravenous appetite for cable news and numbers must not have led to contented harmony in the White House living quarters. One can imagine a dumbfounded Trump viewing the figures scrolling across the flat screen and smirking, “What the he-- is going on here?”

The media depicts changing horses in mid-race as a sign of weakness, but it doesn’t have to be. Trump’s done it enough in real life and in the political realm that it appears as though he’s got a stable full of fresh ponies at the ready at all times, awaiting a signal from the trainers that it’s necessary to leave the paddock. This might not even be the final change of “mounts” we see this summer. Stay tuned.

If 2016 is a guide -- and it’s all we have to go on at present for the first-time politician -- Trump was open to making big switches without a lot of advanced warning in his initial run for office. First, he hired someone viewed as aggressive and confident, but still a political novice -- Corey Lewandowski -- to manage his upstart political effort. Then, when Lewandowski and his rather odd antics started becoming a media fixation and a distraction in and of itself, Trump brought in someone Washington swamp insiders viewed as a “professional,” Paul Manafort.

Manafort was under a federal corruption investigation at the time (Lewandowski subsequently said the higher-ups didn’t know it). Rumors circled the campaign until finally Trump went with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to manage his final three months. This was after the Republican and Democrat conventions. The media hooted and hollered about Trump being “desperate” and on his last leg, not able to compete with the expert “machine” of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Conservatives lauded the final change to Bannon and Conway, and, well, the results speak for themselves. Trump went to Mexico to meet the Mexican president -- and hence, look presidential -- he tightened his message and survived the media’s full-court press to win in November. Not even the infamous “locker room talk” tape or the alleged fat shaming of Venezuelan beauty queen Alicia Machado got Trump far from his main themes. And the voters did the rest.

Will new campaign leadership this time around pay dividends? I don’t know much about Bill Stepien other than he worked for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Any connection to Christie reeks of the GOP establishment, but the newcomer deserves some leeway to right the ship. The Examiner’s reporting team indicated Stepien is close with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, which also doesn’t look great for the conservative cause (since Kushner is a liberal with big government instincts -- more on this below).

There’ve been rumors of late that 2016 campaign CEO Bannon was under consideration to be brought back. It didn’t happen. And Conway is still working for/with Trump on his political operation. Conservatives hope she’s still got enough influence with the candidate that he’ll give her advice some unhindered deference.

If the Trump people were smart, they’d hire Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on retainer, since the primetime talk show host seems to have the best feel for the mood of Americans (at least the ones who aren’t out “protesting” and tearing down monuments). The old saying is “Advice is worth what you pay for it,” but in Carlson’s case I’m sure he’d be willing to offer his two cents on the direction of the campaign for a grin and a socially distanced handshake (after sanitizer, of course). If not, the Trump poohbahs could always just study Tucker’s daily monologue.

Win or lose, Trump should make it clear he doesn’t intend to disappear after November

Last week I addressed the subject of Trump not going away if he were to lose this year’s election, and the possibility he could even run again in 2024 against an incumbent Joe Biden. This is pure foundationless speculation at this point, since Trump would never tip his hand that there was even a remote chance he might not be reelected. The consequences for the country would be disastrous on so many levels if that were to occur.

The biggest tragedy would be the virtual undoing of Trump’s outsider populist movement, one that was launched with a no-holds-barred approach to taking on and defeating the entrenched ruling elites. The Washington swamp class is licking its proverbial chops at the prospect of getting rid of Trump in one fell electoral swoop this year. Poof! Trump gone just like that -- almost akin to Dorothy’s house falling out of the sky right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz.

But suppose, in very Trump-like fashion, he were to announce ahead of time that he would run again in 2024 if he comes up short in November? Or he could potentially wait to make such a statement until after Election Day (assuming he loses for this argument) on the theory that the unforeseeable circumstances of 2020 derailed his reelection effort. Trump has been swamped (forgive the term) by events and bad luck in the last five months. Who would’ve ever thought the incumbent would be viewed as imminently beatable after defeating impeachment and riding a strong economy in the first two months of this year?

If Trump were to keep running, it would allow him to one, remain front-and-center as Biden’s chief critic and two, once the virus is in the background, to reemerge and “campaign” again in front of large crowds. With current surveys still showing Trump with the backing of well over 90 percent of Republicans, there would definitely be a grassroots appetite for the gesture.

And most importantly, the establishment would hate it!

Democrats have been over-the-top in their relentless assaults against Trump since he announced his candidacy five years ago. A perpetual Trump campaign would allow him to return their fire and perhaps create a little conflagration of his own. The worst thing the president could ever do is fold up his political tent and head back to Trump Tower (with Bill de Blasio’s Black Lives Matter mural painted right in front of it), rarely to be heard from again. Trump couldn’t let it end this way.

Of course Trump would need buy-in from Mike Pence on the notion. According to many accounts, Pence is the ideological backbone (conscience?) of Trump-ism, consistently acting as a sounding board for conservatives’ point-of-view.

Related to the points above, it’s been said many times by numerous conservative observers, but Trump would do well to rid himself of son-in-law Jared Kushner (at least as an advisor), a liberal influence who is purportedly all-too-close to the president and feeding him bad suggestions. Kushner has not demonstrated a knack for understanding the mood of the grassroots and Trump’s agenda has often collided with the younger man’s out-of-touch sensibilities.

New Trump campaign strategy sounds like a winner

Whether it was true or not, President Trump’s reelection campaign has given the impression that he/it was reacting to recent events rather than getting out front and leading the nation through them, a defensive posture that hasn’t served the candidate very well. It looks as though this is about to change. Rob Crilly reported at The Washington Examiner, “President Trump’s new campaign manager laid out his strategy [last Thursday], saying the aim was to contrast Joe Biden’s record with that of Trump's and to win ‘each day’ from now until the election…

“’With 109 days left, our goal is clear – to win each day we have left until election day. If we win more days than Joe Biden wins, President Trump will be re-elected,’ he said in his first public statement after taking up the role. ‘We will expose Joe Biden as a hapless tool of the extreme left and contrast his failures with the undeniable successes of President Trump.’ …

“And he said opinion polls were failing to reflect Trump’s support. ‘The same media polls that had the world convinced that Hillary Clinton would be elected in 2016 are trying the same trick again in 2020. It won’t work.’”

We can only hope the polls are wrong like in 2016. Politics is cyclical and clearly Trump’s reached the bottom of a particularly bad cycle. Conservatives have been begging -- literally -- Trump to stop making the reelection campaign his own personal forum to lash out against his enemies in a huge game of playground nanny-nanny-boo-boo, the equivalent of “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

There’s more than enough substance there to win this election on performance and issues alone. Together with a coordinated effort to define Joe Biden as the ultimate swamp dweller, the persuadable independents and wayward Republicans will come around.

Last week’s Trump campaign personnel switch could turn out to be a wise move if the new leadership is able to steer the president back towards a message-based approach to defining his opponent while touting his own accomplishments. Four years ago, Trump ran on a platform of Making America Great Again. There’s no reason to abandon the concept now.

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