WASHINGTON — The novice presidential campaign run exclusively out of Trump Tower that ushered Donald Trump into office in 2016 is taking on a new shape heading into the 2020 election cycle, as the president continues to build a larger and more strategic campaign operation.
Armed with the perks of incumbency, the president has been building a political shop that mirrors the conventional campaign structure he once railed against in 2016, bringing on more advisers, setting up more campaign offices and wielding more money in his campaign coffers than his predecessors did at the halfway point of their first term.
The president's gilded midtown Manhattan skyscraper will continue to serve as a base for Trump’s 2020 campaign, but the campaign has added two offices in proximity to the White House — one in Rosslyn, Virginia, just outside of Washington, and one inside the Republican National Committee’s national headquarters in Washington.
While Trump’s first unconventional run was staffed by a small circle of the president’s allies, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a revolving door of operatives, heading into 2020 Trump is bulking up on seasoned professionals and establishing a more closely coordinated effort with the Republican National Committee, with which he had a thorny relationship throughout the 2016 election season.
Trump, who had three different campaign managers during his 2016 bid — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort and Kellyanne Conway — has since tapped Brad Parscale to lead his re-election bid. Parscale, who served as the 2016 campaign’s digital media director, has said he will rely heavily on data heading into the 2020 campaign, despite the president often eschewing polls as “fake news” on Twitter.
Speaking to supporters at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Parscale told the Trump-friendly crowd that the campaign was looking to build one of the “largest presidential campaigns ever.” He said the campaign has signed up 90,000 team leaders throughout the country to lead community-based campaigning efforts, a number that exceeds the 5,000 team leaders Parscale said the campaign had in 2016.
“That’s one volunteer for every 13 people I need to touch to win the presidency,” Parscale said at CPAC.
Parscale recently announced a series of hires to the campaign’s communications team that includes former RNC employees and congressional aides — a stark contrast to the president’s 2016 campaign, when Trump relied heavily on 26-year-old Hope Hicks, a former model turned public relations consultant, to serve as his campaign press secretary. Hicks often handled tasks that most campaigns would delegate to assistants — responding rapidly to reporter emails and giving Trump handwritten talking points to raise at campaign events.
Trump’s new communications team includes former RNC spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, who will serve as national press secretary, and Tim Murtough, a veteran Republican operative who has worked on state and national campaigns. Former Fox News executive Bill Shine, a Long Island native who briefly served as the White House communications director, has also signed on to the team.
“These hires are the next step toward building a national campaign infrastructure with state-of-the-art communications and fundraising tactics, innovative use of social media and a nationwide army of surrogates and small dollar donors,” Parscale said in a statement.
Trump, who often boasted on the 2016 campaign trail that his wealth meant he was unbeholden to campaign donors, has also been aggressive in his fundraising efforts. Unlike his predecessors, who waited two years into their first terms to file for re-election, Trump filed his 2020 paperwork with the Federal Election Commission hours after he was inaugurated, providing him with a two-year head start on fundraising.
The campaign raised $103 million between the president’s January 2017 inauguration and last Dec. 31, according to the most recent FEC filings. The campaign had nearly $20 million in cash on hand at the time of the latest filing.
Complete fundraising figures will be available for the Democratic contenders in mid-April, when they file their first quarterly campaign reports of the year, but so far leading the pack in money raised in the 24 hours following their campaign launch are former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who raised $6.1 million; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised $5.9 million; and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who raised $1.5 million.
The Trump campaign, looking to avoid a repeat of the “Never Trump” movement that sought to block his nomination in 2016, has also formed a six-person team to focus on ensuring state delegations to the convention are stacked with Trump supporters.
In 2016, part of the reason Trump hired Manafort was because of Manafort’s experience in wrangling delegate votes. The seasoned operative has since been swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, sentenced to seven years in federal prison for a series of financial crimes related in part to his work as a lobbyist for foreign entities.
Trump campaign Senior Adviser Justin Clark said the new delegate team “brings together decades of political experience at the presidential, state and local level.”
The growing campaign structure is a far cry from the early days of the Trump campaign, in which a tight circle of Trump’s closest supporters guided his campaign from Trump Tower, said former Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, who served as a campaign surrogate, often appearing on cable TV in support of Trump.
LaValle, who was an early backer of Trump's 2016 effort, recalls attending meetings at Trump Tower with a “lean” and "rag tag team" of seven advisers leading up to New York's presidential primaries. He said Trump often arranged his own TV interviews, a job candidates often delegate to their communications team.
While Trump’s campaign operation has taken on a “different flavor,” LaValle said he expects Trump to remain unchanged in his messaging.
“Donald Trump was larger than life when he ran in 2016, he ran as a political outsider then, and he continues to be an outsider,” LaValle said. “You don’t just change overnight because you got elected.”