Politics

Trump is losing, and his campaign doesn’t want the blame

That has certainly been the case with Trump’s campaign managers this year. He started with Brad Parscale, who promptly went from pauper to luxury cars and multiple homes. There’s no sadness when grifters grift other grifters, but Parscale didn’t get fired for syphoning millions of Republican donor dollars into his own pockets. He didn’t even get fired for rank stupidity, like this famously mocked Tweet: 

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Twitter had a field day, as you might imagine. 

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While we were laughing at his lack of pop culture knowledge, he was “running” his campaign poolside from Florida, as annoyed campaign staffers risked COVID-19 in their Northern Virginia campaign headquarters. Don’t cry for them, of course, they signed up for stupid, in service of dangerously stupid.

Parascale’s big strategic mistake was in his map. Trump’s task was relatively easy—hold every one of his 2016 states. It was actually even easier than that—he could lose two of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and still win the election. And yet he indulged in Trump’s fantasies about winning everything. 

“Obviously, we have to go back and win Michigan again, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin,” Parscale said, referring to three states that Trump won by a combined 78,000 votes. “We plan on also being in Minnesota very soon. I think New Mexico is in play in 2020.

“I think New Hampshire, I think we continue to grow the map. I think Nevada, you know even Colorado. And so those are, those are states we did not win in, in 2016 that I think are open for 2020.”

The smart plan would be to lock down his 2016 states before he even thought about expanding the map. Consider the Joe Biden strategy—lock down Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and then look at new opportunities. North Carolina and Florida were obvious ones, then Arizona seemed ripe for contesting. Then Georgia. And now Biden has been flirting with making a bid for Texas. That’s how you do it. But first and foremost, you lock down your must-win states. And for both candidates, that rust-belt trio of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is the whole ballgame. 

(New Mexico and Colorado, for sure, were never in play. Biden will win both comfortably by double digits. New Hampshire probably as well.)

But Trump was okay with all of this, even with Parscale using campaign funds to advertise his own personal Facebook page, until the Tulsa fiasco. You know the one—Trump’s triumphant return to his Nuremberg-style rallies in defiance of the pandemic. They had ONE MILLION PEOPLE signed up to go! They even set up a second stage outside the venue, which seated about 19,000. so that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence could address the overflow crowd! And then …

And then hilariously no one showed up. The overflow area was … lonely, and was torn down before Trump even took the main stage inside the arena. Total crowd size? About 6,000, including Herman Cain, which sucked for him, because he got COVID-19 at the rally and died. 

So stealing millions from the campaign and its Republican donors? Cool cool. Being an idiot. It’s a Trump operation, comes with the territory. EMBARRASSING DONALD TRUMP? That’s the one line Parscale couldn’t cross. So he was axed, and Bridgegate Bill Stepien, the guy behind the scandal that ended New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political career, was put in charge. Of course. (Parscale, for his part, did what all Trump associates do and ended up in jail.) 

Stepien launched his stewardship of the Trump campaign with one of the more … interesting theories of campaign victory: “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.” 

Of course, that’s not how presidential elections work at all. That is so stupid, as to be inherently disqualifying, and it was dangerous territory to tread with a candidate incapable of adhering to a script or focus on anything beyond his most immediate and current grievance.

So now, with the Trump campaign headed to crushing defeat, Stepien is clearly looking to shift blame elsewhere, and Axios was happy to oblige. The resulting story is so pathetic and hilarious, it’s worthy a closer look. 

The big picture: The Trump campaign is filled with internal blaming and pre-spinning of a potential loss, accelerating a dire mood that’s driven by a daily barrage of bleak headlines, campaign and White House officials tell me.

  • “A lot of this is the president himself,” one adviser said. “You can’t heal a patient who doesn’t want to take the diagnosis.”

True, dat. 

In weekly pep talks, Stepien tells staff members why they shouldn’t pay attention to the perennially horrible public polls—  and how they can “win the week” and the campaign.

Oh boy, he still thinks winning a day matters, except they’ve won none since he took over, dealing with fire after fire after fire. Oh, Trump is now calling veterans suckers and idiots? Melania hates Christmas? His taxes finally leaked? He won’t condemn white supremacists? He’s totally cool with the Q crazies? He was a jackass at the debate? 

Having lost all those days, now Stepien thinks winning “the week” will suddenly erase Trump’s deep deficit in the polls? And remember, we’re down to two weeks, and about 20% of people have already voted, so it better be some kind off MASSIVE victory of a week! Maybe Russian-stooge Rudy Giuliani can deliver the goods? Or maybe more of this great message discipline will finally sway college-educated suburban white women back in to the fold:

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The whole notion of winning the day or the week, instead of the election, meant that Stepien and his campaign’s focus and priorities were misaligned from the first day. It was idiocy, compounded by the reality that, hey, Trump is their candidate, and did they really think they’d be doing anything but putting out his fires the last few months of the campaign? 

But in other private conversations, described by multiple sources, Stepien can seem darkly pessimistic. He likens the campaign to an airplane flying through turbulence, saying: “It’s our job to safely land the plane.” […]

“It’s not a great feeling when you get the sense the campaign manager doesn’t deep down think we’re going to win,” one campaign source said.

Weird, feels like a great feeling to me!

Stepien’s defenders tell me the campaign sees several remaining paths to victory, and note that it’s hardly his fault when the president insists on actions like taking a joyride with the Secret Service while infected by COVID-19.

100% Stepien shares fault with Trump. His inability to control his candidate, while not unique, is still on him. He could’ve walked away at any given time, told Jared Kushner to take the reins and the fall. He could’ve not taken the job in the first place. Who are all these idiots who keep taking these jobs, then act all surprised when they crash and burn? (They’re related to the idiots that sign contracts with Trump expecting to be paid.)

They added that it’s also hardly Stepien’s fault that Trump continues to attack his public health officials and present views that are out of step with public opinion — such as his denigration of the basic safety act of wearing a mask.

As long as Stepien is in charge of the campaign, he shares the blame. Yes, Trump is quite literally the worst candidate in American history (separate from being the worst president). 

He’s also dealing with a money shortage, driven by heavy early spending by his predecessor, Brad Parscale, who was demoted this summer.

So this is REALLY weird. The campaign is certainly acting like it’s broke, canceling ad campaigns in critical battleground states. And while Biden crushed Trump in September fundraising, the Trump campaign still raised $248 million. There are two weeks and change left in the campaign. A quarter billion dollars should be enough. But … they’re still acting as though they have nothing left in the bank. So what exactly is going on here? 

My suspicion is that they’re simply lying about the amount raised. Yes, it would be a federal violation of law to lie about their fundraising, but ha ha ha as if they care! In fact, we know that Trump’s favorite thing to lie about is his money! And what’s the consequence of the campaign admitting they lied about fundraising after the election? Nothing. Slap on the wrist? A million-dollar fine that the campaign will never pay, because fuck you, Trump doesn’t give a shit? 

The other possibility is that Stepien has his own Parscale-level grift happening. Maybe he’s in it with the whole Trump family! Donald owes his $400 million with little chance of earning that money honestly, so why not save campaign cash to save the family business? They’ve gotten away with worse in the past. 

Not to mention, much of the wasteful spending that characterized the Parscale regime continues to this day. For example, the campaign is still airing ads in the DC media market, spending millions so that Trump can see himself on TV. They’re spending millions more on national ad buys, so that I can see a Trump ad while watching football in Berkeley, California, where Trump will lose the city by 80 points and the state by 35 points. 

One campaign adviser pointed to a “half-assed” advertising buy in Wisconsin this week, around $130,000 according to Advertising Analytics data, which two campaign sources said seemed pointless given it’s too small to move the needle.

You supposedly just raised $248 million in a single month. You can’t direct a couple million of that to Wisconsin, a critical must-win state for Trump? 

But Stepien’s dilemma, as described by several advisers, is that Trump would inevitably blow up at him if he were to read newspaper stories that he was going off the air in a Rust Belt battleground.

So what? Seriously, so what? All of this “it’s not Stepien’s fault” hits a wall when it is he who is making the decisions. So let’s pretend that he’s actually smart and knows what he’s doing, and makes a decision that is tactically smart, but it enrages Trump and he fires Stepien. Well then, Stepien could then credibly say “it’s not my fault. I tried, but Trump wouldn’t hear it.” But by letting Trump’s most ridiculous instincts hamstring his choices, he very much owns every bit of failure that will rain down on him on November 3. 

In fact, the article notes that the Trump campaign is still spending money in Wisconsin and Minnesota even though neither of those states feature in Stepien’s paths to 270 electoral votes. Throw in the DC spending, and the supposed quarter-million haul, and he doesn’t get to claim poverty and blame Parscale for his predicament. 

Over the past two weeks, Jared Kushner has been casting about outside of the campaign for fresh ideas on tactics, strategy and messaging. A senior campaign source said he always does this, and that nothing should be read into it beyond him gathering the best information and trying to bring everyone together.

Perfect, just perfect. Just over two weeks out, and Kushner is “casting about” for “ideas on tactics.” Maybe he shouldn’t have botched his own leadership of the COVID response

During the past week, Trump asked at least one confidant whether they think he needs to make any changes on his campaign.

I literally laughed out loud. 

These people are all jokers, and it’s a tragedy of untold proportions that they inflicted themselves on this nation, just because racist deplorables couldn’t handle the existence of a Black president. It’s tragic that so many of those deplorables are doubling down. But they’ve thankfully become more of a minority. 

And with liberals voting at unprecedented rates, in every state with early voting, it’s clear that we’re headed for something special on election night. Keep fighting and doing what you’re doing. It’s working. The best Trump, Stepien and his gang can do is point fingers, hurl recriminations, and  wonder if maybe, just maybe, they should do something different in the face of humiliating defeat.

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