Wounded GOP front-runner Donald Trump is quietly setting up a parallel campaign structure, hiring known Republican fixers to professionalize his operation and sidelining his original team.
Under the guidance of his new strategist Paul Manafort, Trump on Wednesday brought aboard Rick Wiley, Scott Walker’s former campaign manager and a former senior party official well versed in the rule-making process that might decide the GOP nomination in a contested convention.
Wiley’s hiring demonstrates how quickly Manafort is consolidating his own power within Trump’s campaign, gaining influence with the candidate and exerting authority over those who had previously reported to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the campaign.
Lewandowski is losing the tug-of-war, said a former adviser to the campaign, adding “Corey has been neutered.”
The resulting power struggle has led to a confusing situation for the staff in which there are essentially parallel organizational structures with separate, and often conflicting, chains of command, according to the sources.
“There are two campaigns being run in Trump world. And nothing is happening because no one is sure who they’re supposed to be listening to,” said one operative familiar with the campaign, who said staffers have reported receiving different instructions from Lewandowski and Manafort, or officials loyal to them.
Another indication of the growing factionalism within the campaign is the decision to limit access to a staff directory, so that employees can’t see who is being hired, according to an operative who has worked with some of the campaign staff.
A GOP fundraiser said Manafort is casting a wide net for prospective staff as he endeavors to build “an entire mirror organization.” But the fundraiser asserted it won’t be easy to attract many top-tier operatives, for whom Trump’s toxicity in GOP establishment circles remains a concern.
“The profile would be more that of someone who suffered a professional set-back or has been on the outs and needs redemption,” said the fundraiser, adding that joining the Manafort team could be a wise move for such operatives. “It’s kind of a no lose: if things go poorly, you can blame it on Corey and the other guys. But, if you somehow do save the campaign, you can take full credit. If someone pulls this off, they will be in the campaign history books.”
That profile fits Wiley to a tee.
A former Republican National Committee political director who oversaw the organization’s $178 million budget in 2012, Wiley is exceedingly familiar with the GOP’s power structure and its nominating process. And he is among a rare breed of GOP operative who has worked inside the party’s establishment but is willing to risk his reputation by working for candidates and causes outside the Republican mainstream.
In 2008, Wiley helped create and run a little-noticed non-profit group called the Wellspring Committee, which was backed by Charles and David Koch and their allies, and represented their network’s first foray into building a broad electoral operation.
Walker’s presidential campaign, on the other hand, was celebrated by many in the GOP establishment, at least initially. But after the Wisconsin governor entered the race as a supposed front-runner, he saw his fundraising efforts and poll numbers crater over the summer after a number of missteps on the campaign trail and a campaign that was too big and expensive to sustain. Those mistakes were largely blamed on Wiley, who was ready to resign as campaign manager before Walker opted to drop out.
Walker, along with nearly the entire Republican establishment, is supporting Ted Cruz. And his biggest financial backers, the Ricketts family, are among the leading donors to the super PAC that is working to stop Trump.
Wiley himself seemed to harbor anti-Trump sentiments, although nearly all of his tweets from recent months that were critical of Trump appear to have been deleted. His hiring Wednesday is already ruffling establishment feathers.
“Wiley doesn’t want to wait for redemption,” one GOP operative said. “[He] doesn’t realize he is only hastening his departure from the list of credible operatives.”
Wiley will work out of the Trump campaign’s soon-to-be opened Washington, DC office.
“Rick is a seasoned political expert with a very successful career in winning elections,” Trump said in a statement issued by the campaign. “He brings decades of experience, and his deep ties to political leaders and activists across the country will be a tremendous asset as we enter the final phase of securing the nomination.”
Manafort was brought in last month and given more control last week in response to the Trump campaign’s struggles to amass delegates, a process mostly controlled by party insiders with knowledge of arcane, state-specific rules that has befuddled the GOP front-runner’s operation.
Trump leads Cruz by nearly 200 delegates and is likely to come close to sweeping the 95 delegates up for grabs next Tuesday in his home state of New York, but he has almost no margin for error if he hopes to secure the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination outright.
Charged with professionalizing Trump’s campaign, Manafort hired another California operative earlier in the week to run the campaign there ahead of the June 7 primary where the 172 delegates at stake could determine whether Trump or Cruz becomes the GOP nominee.
Alex Isenstadt contributed.
Powered by WPeMatico