Facing worrisome polls, Trump is turning to establishment figures to supplement his own 2020 instincts.
Nearly two years after boasting that his gut tells him “more sometimes than anybody else’s brain,” President Donald Trump is ditching his go-it-alone approach — hoping the instincts and experiences of seasoned Republican players can help reinvent his 2020 campaign before it’s too late.
In the months since a pandemic and protests complicated his bid for a second term, Trump and his two top campaign hands — White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and campaign manager Brad Parscale — have turned establishment figures into sounding boards, senators into policy directors and free market stalwarts into the drivers of his next economic response to Covid-19.
To rectify worrisome poll numbers, the trio has turned to veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove, who helped steer President George W. Bush to reelection in 2004 amid a soft economy, and others for help corralling party veterans who have soured on Trump. To please Koch brothers-backed groups and the Republican-aligned Chamber of Commerce, the president has called for a payroll tax holiday to lift businesses hit by the pandemic. And in an attempt to boost his appeal with black voters, he and Kushner have pursued policy initiatives recommended by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the GOP’s only African American senator — including an executive order on police reform the White House unveiled Tuesday.
It’s a notable difference from Trump’s renegade approach in 2016, when his own raw inclinations drove most decisions related to campaign personnel and strategy. But it’s also reflective of the Trump campaign’s desire to adapt to the current moment — amid widespread unease about the economy and a nationwide focus on racial inequality — by broadening whom they engage with and using their professionalized apparatus to rapidly implement new ideas and strategies.
“We want to make sure we’re keeping people happy,” said one Trump campaign official. “Many of them are TV regulars and have a lot of experience in politics.”
In late night phone calls, Oval Office meetings and informal conversations with outside advisers, Trump, Kushner and Parscale have discussed ways to revamp the president’s campaign and map out a narrow path to victory this fall. Last month, for instance, Rove was invited to the White House to join the president, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and senior Trump campaign officials for a political strategy session, during which they discussed the president’s standing in a handful of swing states and at least two hotly contested Senate races, according to three people familiar with the conversation.
Rove’s connections to Republican megadonors and his reputation as the canny architect of Bush’s reelection campaign made him one of the first calls Parscale made when Trump’s internal polls started slipping, according to a second campaign official, who added that Rove has also forged a constructive relationship with the president after betting against him in 2016 and seeing his name land in a dozen-plus angry Trump tweets as a result.
People familiar with his involvement said Rove has urged the Trump campaign to focus on defining the president’s plans for a second term, highlighting his challenger’s policy shortcomings and encouraging the president to moderate his tweets as much as possible. Recently, the president and his campaign have been deeply engaged on a mission to convince voters that Joe Biden’s mental health is deteriorating — thus making him unfit for office.
“Karl Rove is a smart guy and he knows that if you sit by and let Trump go off the deep end with crazy tweets and an arena show, you’re just killing our Senate guys,” said a person involved with the Trump reelect.
In a statement to POLITICO, Rove said he has no involvement with the Trump campaign besides speaking to the president’s campaign manager and son-in-law every so often: “I suspect I’m one of a number of people whom Brad Parscale may call occasionally for reactions to a thought or idea on the campaign.”
Indeed, Kushner and Parscale are in regular contact with an assortment of hardened campaign veterans. They regularly consult former RNC co-chair Bob Paduchik, now an adviser to the Trump campaign, lobbyist and western Pennsylvania native David Urban, former Mitch McConnell adviser Josh Holmes, and Scott and Republican Sens. Todd Young of Indiana, David Perdue of Georgia.
Trump himself sometimes spends hours on the phone each week with personal friends, conservative media personalities and former staffers. He and Vice President Mike Pence have both consulted Nick Ayers, a senior adviser to Pence during the 2016 campaign and later his chief of staff, about the 2020 race in recent months, while the president has also held meetings with ex-campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie. Last week, the Trump campaign also brought back Jason Miller as a senior adviser, marking the return of another 2016 veteran who had maintained close contact with the president and Kushner over the past 3½ years.
“This campaign is no different from 2016, in that it’s still going to be built from what the president is going to do,” said a senior White House official. “It was a very candidate-driven campaign in 2016, and it’s going to be the same here, but you have a lot of people who want to be part of the team and it’s a bigger tent than it was before.”
“If they want to be part of it, we have the resources now to make that happen,” the official added.
The return of Trump originals and the outreach to former foes comes at a critical juncture for the president, who has fallen behind Biden in numerous matchup polls, been absent from the campaign trail for nearly three months because of nationwide stay-at-home orders and was met with resistance from some Republican officials who are nervous about reopening the country too quickly as the coronavirus death count climbs.
Trump’s support with core constituencies remains solid and his fundraising continues to break records — the Trump campaign and RNC marked their largest online fundraising day ever on Sunday with a combined $14 million haul for the president’s 74th birthday. But his appeal among senior voters — a demographic he carried by 7 percentage points in 2016 — and white working-class women has eroded, leading to polling deficits in swing states that are critical to his reelection. A Michigan poll released Tuesday from EPIC-MRA found Biden leading Trump among likely voters 55 percent to 39 percent.
The campaign has also struggled to zero in on a message that appeals to voters in the middle of the public health crisis and passionate protests over police brutality. The demonstrations and nationwide conversation about systemic racism have led Kushner and Trump to seek advice from Scott and other prominent black conservatives — including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who is urging the president to reconsider his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. But there’s little evidence to suggest those conversations have translated into a polling boost for Trump among black Americans, 85 percent of whom said the U.S. is on the wrong track in a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll this month.
Trump campaign officials who once said the president could breeze through the general election on an anti-socialism message have struggled to pin the label to Biden, a practicing Catholic who has opposed programs like “Medicare for All, defended wealthy Americans as “not necessarily bad” and said last week he does not support activist calls to “defund the police.”
In the months since Biden effectively secured the Democratic nomination, the campaign has tried to modify its message — arguing that only Trump can deliver a vibrant economic recovery in the post-coronavirus era or that he’s the law-and-order leader America needs right now — and define Biden without repelling certain voters.
Campaign officials expect to spend the next few weeks fine-tuning their strategy and continuing to solicit feedback from outside actors so the president is ready to “go into battle” by August, according to the senior White House official.
In the meantime, Trump will restart his marquee rallies with a massive gathering in Tulsa, Okla., this Saturday — a development that’s likely to provide new fodder for his critics and new material for his campaign.
Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/17/trump-2020-karl-rove-324914