Donald Trump’s campaign is increasingly falling into disarray as the Manhattan billionaire braces for a loss in Wisconsin that could set him on course for an uncertain convention floor fight for the Republican presidential nomination.
Since March, the campaign has been laying off field staff en masse around the country and has dismantled much of what existed of its organizations in general-election battlegrounds, including Florida and Ohio.
Last month, the campaign laid off the leader of its data team, Matt Braynard, who did not train a successor. It elevated his No. 2, a data engineer with little prior high-level political strategy experience, and also shifted some of his team’s duties to a 2015 college graduate whose last job was an internship with the consumer products company Colgate-Palmolive. Some of the campaign’s data remains inaccessible.
As the final stretch of this hard fought GOP primary bogs down into a delegate fight among party insiders and operatives that likely won’t be decided until the July convention in Cleveland, Trump’s singular star power appears to be no longer enough—and his campaign’s months-long lack of attention to other fundamentals is emerging as a hindrance to his ability to clinch the nomination outright.
“Presidential campaigns are a team sport, and he doesn’t have that mentality,” one high-level GOP operative said. “That’s why they’re missing a lot of these opportunities that are passing them by. [Trump] might be a great quarterback, but every quarterback still needs a strong offensive line.”
Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski flatly rejected the idea that the campaign is in disarray or suffering from low morale.
“Unequivocally not,” he said. “We have the most cohesive, loyal staff, the most loving staff I have ever had the privilege of working with on a campaign.” Lewandowski said the members of Trump’s small senior staff “have such an amazing relationship that the morale is the greatest ever.”
While he acknowledged that the campaign has let go of staff in states that already voted, he chalked that up to “the nature of a campaign.” He asserted that his team has retained its best talent, often by offering jobs in upcoming states, noting that it currently has 45 staffers in Wisconsin.
“Just like a real corporation, the people who are doing the best and want to continue on, they’re given that opportunity,” he said. “Some people don’t want to move for family reasons or whatever it may be. And then, some people, based on performance have been not given the privilege of moving.”
At the moment, though, Trump’s team appears to be something of a patchwork group without much experience—partly because so many staffers are being fired.
Only four of 11 Iowa staffers continued on after Trump lost that state’s caucuses in February. More recently, most of Trump’s South Carolina, Florida and Ohio teams have not had their contracts renewed, according to a person familiar with the campaign, who said the lack of organization in Florida was putting Trump at a disadvantage in the delegate selection process.
While Trump’s South Carolina coalitions director, Nancy Mace, remains on payroll and is organizing in Wisconsin, most of the rest of Trump’s South Carolina team did not have their contracts renewed. Following a bout of illness in late February, Myrtle Beach area Tea Party activist Gerri McDaniel, who organized for Trump in Horry County, which the mogul carried with roughly half of the vote, was let go by National Field Director Stuart Jolly in early March, shortly after he assumed authority over field staffing decisions, according to a person familiar with the incident.
But that decision—like some other personnel decisions made in recent weeks—has not fully stuck. Recently, McDaniel was brought back as a volunteer to help Trump secure loyal delegates from South Carolina to the Republican National Convention, according to three people familiar with her new role.
Lewandowski declined to comment on why McDaniel was removed from the payroll. “You have to ask Stuart Jolly,” he said, adding “to be fair, yeah, I am at the top of this campaign pyramid, but I am not involved in making the decisions about where we’re moving staff from one location to another. That is the job that falls to Stuart Jolly, it falls to our regional political directors, like Karen Giorno from Florida, who helps. Michael Glassner is involved in those decisions.”
Multiple staffers and advisors left the campaign last month in protest of the way its management was treating its staff, a source familiar with the departures told POLITICO.
“I believe that Donald Trump has the backbone to fix this country, but if changes are not made soon at the top I am fairly convinced that he will lose,” said one of the people who left the campaign. The person said morale among the campaign staff is sinking, attributing that to the layoffs, as well as Lewandowski’s profanity-laced outburst on campaign calls.
“I don’t think Mr. Trump knows what’s happening on his campaign,” the person said, adding “everyone is in astonishment of what’s going on. It’s almost like they’re sabotaging themselves.”
(Lewandowski said that “never once” has anyone on the campaign complained to him about his cursing or management style.)
Braynard, the former Republican National Committee strategist Trump had hired to run his campaign’s data team, was let go by the campaign a couple weeks ago, multiple sources also told POLITICO.
Neither Braynard nor Lewandowski commented when asked whether Braynard left of his own accord or was fired. Sources say his top lieutenant in the campaign’s data shop, a former RNC data engineer named Witold Chrabaszcz, was elevated at least temporarily to run the team. Chrabaszcz, who goes by “Vito,” declined to comment. While he is regarded as a savvy manipulator of data, he’s largely unknown in the tight-knit world of GOP data strategists. He seldom worked on political strategy at the RNC and mostly interacted with the party’s other data engineers, a group known as the “basement dwellers.”
According to a person familiar with the campaign, Braynard’s departure has left some on the campaign unable to access some of its files. Some of his team’s duties have fallen to a young staffer named Ashton Adams, according to another person close to the campaign. Adams graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 2015 with a marketing degree and joined the campaign in November, according to her LinkedIn profile. It lists her title for the campaign as “Deputy Director, Trump Tech” and lists an internship at the consumer products company Colgate Palmolive as her only prior work experience.
Lewandowski said “the data team continues to grow.”
But Trump’s analytics effort is seen as lagging significantly behind that of Ted Cruz or Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Their campaigns have spent millions identifying and targeting persuadable voters.
There is also mounting evidence that the Trump campaign’s lack of organization is hurting him in the critical fight for delegates that is playing out at the state level. After winning Louisiana, Trump was surprised to learn that he failed to secure as many delegates there as Cruz and has threatened to sue.
And last weekend in Colorado, Trump was shut out as Ted Cruz secured all six of the delegates elected at two congressional district assemblies that were held a week ahead of the state GOP convention, where the delegation’s remaining 27 delegates will be elected Saturday.
At the assembly in Denver, Trump seemed to have as many or more supporters show up than Cruz. But they didn’t have a plan. The Cruz campaign, meanwhile, encouraged its supporters to unite behind a slate of delegates, enabling the Texas senator to win all three delegate slots from the district (the same situation played out later Saturday afternoon at the other assembly in Aurora).
“Part of it is a reflection of reality: there is not a lot of Trump support in the first place,” said Josh Penry, a GOP operative based in Denver. “Add that to the general lack of organization and you get goose eggs. I think there is a very real chance Cruz sweeps [the rest of the delegates in] Colorado on Saturday.”
Lewandowski brushed off Trump’s decline in polls and concerns about delegate wrangling.
“The bottom line is that Donald Trump has won 21 states. He is the clear frontrunner in this race. He is the only person who can secure the nomination through the delegate acquisition process,” Lewandowski said. “What you’re going to find today in Wisconsin is this race is going to be a lot closer than people think, and this is a state, Wisconsin, that Ted Cruz must sweep in order to stay in this race.”
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