In a shakeup that’s roiling Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the GOP front-runner told senior staffers at a Saturday meeting that he wants his recent hires Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley to take the reins in upcoming states, giving them a $20-million budget for key contests in May and June, according to three sources with knowledge of the meeting.
The spending authorization, which covers most of the month of May, is far more than the campaign has spent in any prior month, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The cash infusion — which the sources said is intended to fund an aggressive advertising push, as well as more staff at Trump’s New York headquarters and in upcoming states — is part of an effort by the billionaire to expand and professionalize a shoestring operation that had mostly gotten by on the strength of free media exposure and a small core team.
But sources inside the Trump campaign said the moves are increasingly alienating staff loyal to the original team headed by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, which had guided Trump from the political fringe to the precipice of the GOP presidential nomination with relatively little campaign infrastructure or spending.
One key Lewandowski loyalist, national field director Stuart Jolly, on Monday submitted a letter of resignation, according to the sources, who characterized Jolly as displeased with the reorganization. Under the new structure, Jolly would have reported to Wiley, who was hired last week by Manafort as political director. In turn, Wiley, who previously ran Scott Walker’s disappointing presidential campaign, will report to Manafort, who was hired late last month and quickly boasted “I work directly for the boss.”
One operative who has worked with the campaign and was briefed on the changes said “Stuart will not work with Rick Wiley. It just wasn’t going to happen.” The operative added that the change had sparked particular concern among the campaign’s field staff, many of whom were hired by Jolly and maintained close contact with him — a rarity on a campaign with a reputation for top-down communication.
“Stuart is the only guy who has worked with the field staff, and they are loyal to him,” said the operative. “He is the only guy who understands how this works. It is going to be a huge shock when he leaves.”
Jolly declined to comment.
The Saturday meeting was held at the campaign’s headquarters at Manhattan’s Trump Tower and was attended by Manafort, Wiley, Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager Michael Glassner, according to the sources familiar with it.
They said it included a heavy focus on California’s June 7 primary, a showdown that could potentially help Trump secure the delegates necessary to clinch the GOP nomination before the Republican convention. The campaign is hoping to pick up between 200 and 255 delegates between New York and the states that vote a week later on April 26, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
Manafort is planning a heavy advertising campaign in California, a change in strategy for a campaign which has spent relatively little on paid media in most states. He has also overseen the hiring of a campaign team in the state, according to sources familiar with the campaign and Saturday’s meeting.
“Manafort told Trump he’s going to have spend a bunch more money if they’re going to get to 1,237 [delegates needed to win the nomination] — especially if they’re going to win California,” said a source person close to the campaign. Money is already flowing more freely, with thousands of dollars going to hotel accommodations for staffers in Pennsylvania, a departure from the campaign’s normally frugal habits, according to the source.
At Saturday’s meeting, source said Manafort also laid out a plan on Saturday for hiring at least five additional communications staffers to work in a national press office that has been mostly run by spokeswoman Hope Hicks, a relative political neophyte who learned presidential politics on the fly.
While Lewandowski’s team has taken heat for getting outmaneuvered in the delegate race, the operative who praised Jolly said Lewandowski deserves a lot of credit for “getting this far with no money.”
Trump has been intensely loyal to Lewandowski, standing by him even as he came under fire for manhandling a reporter. And, despite all the personnel changes, Trump during Saturday’s meeting stressed to his senior staffers that none of them would be fired, and that they could stay with the campaign as long as it lasted.
Manafort and Wiley did not respond to requests for comment.
And Lewandowksi declined to discuss Saturday’s gathering, except to describe it as “a productive meeting with the senior staff to talk about our path to victory.”
Inside the campaign, though, the meeting was interpreted as an effort to integrate Manafort, Wiley and their new hires into the existing staff structure, over which Manafort will have broad authority.
Since his hiring late last month, Manafort, whose official title is convention manager, had been building something akin to a parallel campaign structure alongside Lewandowski’s pre-existing team. The situation was becoming increasingly unwieldy, with sources in the campaign telling POLITICO that staff sometimes received conflicting directives from Lewandowski and Manafort, or officials loyal to them.
Among the aides who were notably absent from Saturday’s meeting, according to sources familiar with it, were Jolly, who was not invited, and senior adviser Barry Bennett, a longtime Lewandowski friend who was brought aboard after leaving the since-aborted campaign of Trump rival Ben Carson. Bennett was in San Francisco and was not focused on campaign activities, according to a campaign source, who said he is set to meet with Manafort on Tuesday to discuss his role going forward.
Bennett declined to comment.
In Jolly’s resignation letter, which was addressed to “Mr. Trump” and was reviewed by POLITICO, the Oklahoma operative expressed his “deepest gratitude” to the candidate, declaring “I will never forget your encouragement and loyalty.” But he said he decided “it is time for me to leave the campaign and pursue education reform issues.” He praised Lewandowski, calling him “one of my best friends” and explaining he was “initially the reason I joined this campaign.”
A retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, Jolly worked with Lewandowski at the Koch brothers-backed advocacy group Americans for Prosperity mostly on policy fights, and did not have any previous national campaign experience. Jolly was initially hired by Lewandowski to focus on Southern States that voted March 1. But he was shifted to New Hampshire ahead of that state’s critical first-in-the-nation primary after Trump’s disappointing loss to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses.
Trump’s lopsided primary wins in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 and South Carolina 11 days later shocked the political establishment and put him on a trajectory to win the nomination. Those early victories “were magical and I will never forget them,” Jolly wrote to Trump.
Others on the campaign cheered Jolly’s departure, saying that his “Strike Team” — a group of field staffers Jolly deployed to phone bank and knock doors in Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin — had failed to delivery victories to Trump, and arguing that Jolly was less qualified than many of the state directors he oversaw.
But Jolly in his resignation letter wrote “my guidance to the states’ staff and strike teams was … always to focus, keep moving, grow the base, love on your volunteers, and take care of your people. We did these simple things, we won, and we continued to win because we followed a winning formula.”
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