Tulsa rally failure may spark Trump campaign team shakeup

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Poor attendance at his rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday night has President Trump increasingly frustrated with his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and considering shaking up his reelection team, according to sources familiar with the issue.

“The president has diminishing confidence in Brad,” a former adviser said of Parscale, who served as the campaign’s digital director in 2016. 

President Trump at his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
President Trump at his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

According to the former adviser, Trump, who is “getting madder by the day,” has recently made dismissive comments about Parscale’s experience. Prior to working for Trump, Parscale worked at a web design and marketing company he founded in San Antonio. He was named campaign manager of the president’s reelection bid in early 2018.

“I’ve been in the room when Trump refers to him as ‘the website guy.’ … And that’s not that long ago. It’s a problem for Brad,” the former campaign adviser said.

Multiple sources said Trump is considering giving more responsibility to two other top campaign staffers — Jason Miller and Bill Stepien. Earlier this month, Miller, who was Trump’s communications director in 2016, was hired to be a senior adviser. Stepien, who has worked for the Trump campaign and the White House since 2016, was recently promoted to deputy campaign manager. The sources said either of the pair could serve as a potential replacement for Parscale or be granted greater power behind the scenes. 

Parscale did not respond to a request for comment. Miller dismissed the idea that Trump was dissatisfied with Parscale and mulling changes to his campaign strategy as “fake news.” He also suggested the Tulsa rally was a success compared with the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, which has held off on large events since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Brad has built an amazing team, and the Biden campaign is in full meltdown trying to explain why Trump had 11,990 more supporters than Biden did at their last event,” Miller said. 

The fire marshal’s office in Tulsa said Trump drew under 6,200 people at the BOK Center, which can hold about 19,000. The Trump campaign prepped for overflow crowds by setting up an outdoor stage where the president and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to make speeches prior to the rally. Those remarks were scrapped and the stage was dismantled after no crowds were left outside the venue. 

Parscale later blamed the modest attendance on the coronavirus and media coverage “warning people away” to avoid sickness and violent protests. He also suggested demonstrations “blocked access,” a claim that has been debunked

Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for President Trump's reelection campaign, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for President Trump's reelection campaign, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The rally was set to be the nation’s largest indoor event since the pandemic led to lockdowns and cancellations of major gatherings across the country. Oklahoma saw a spike in COVID-19 cases in the days leading up to the event, and the Trump campaign announced on Saturday that six staffers who were in Tulsa to set up the rally had tested positive. 

Whatever caused attendance to fall below the campaign’s expectations, the rows of empty seats were an embarrassing sight, particularly given Trump’s infamous preoccupation with crowd sizes. Parscale’s prior social media boasts that 800,000 people had signed up for tickets added to the negative headlines, as did claims that an anti-Trump campaign led by teens on TikTok was behind this large number (though there is no data supporting those claims).

As Biden’s position has improved in the polls, multiple reports have appeared about tension on Trump’s team and about the president’s growing frustration with Parscale, even before Tulsa. This included a story published by CNN in late April that claimed Trump “was shouting” at the campaign manager about his poll numbers. Both Trump and Parscale subsequently denied the outburst had occurred.  

The former campaign adviser said Trump felt “poorly served” by recent advice from his aides, including on the execution of the Tulsa rally and the handling of his appearance at St. John’s Church in Washington earlier this month, which took place after protesters were teargassed and cleared from the surrounding street. According to the former adviser, Parscale’s lack of political gravitas made it hard for him to question Trump when the president has his own ideas that might not work. 

“Brad never has experience to point to and offer a counterpoint when the president has a bad instinct,” the former adviser said.

Still even as the former adviser and other sources suggested Trump could be mulling a shakeup, they all warned against counting Parscale out entirely and noted the campaign manager’s support from members of the president’s family. The former adviser pegged Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president’s son Don Jr., as strong supporters of Parscale. Both Lara Trump and Guilfoyle work for the president’s campaign. 

“If Trump wanted to get rid of Brad, I think Kimberly and Lara are an impediment to that,” the former adviser said. 

Parscale and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Parscale and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, also plays a key role on the campaign — albeit in an unofficial capacity — and has a good relationship with Parscale. A person familiar with Kushner’s thinking told Yahoo News that Trump’s son-in-law is close to Parscale and is unlikely to be eager for him to leave the campaign.

Parscale has been widely credited with masterminding a data and social media strategy that was a key component of Trump’s 2016 victory. He has also been paid handsomely for his work for Trump.

However, veterans of Trump’s initial White House bid have noted Parscale’s limitations. In November 2016, just after Trump won, former Republican National Committee chief of staff Katie Walsh, who worked with Parscale’s data operation, spoke candidly with Yahoo News about him.  

“I would go on the record effusively praising Brad and saying that he has been great to work with. I would also go on record saying Brad had never worked in politics before and he would even admit that he knew almost nothing about politics before this,” Walsh said. “There were a lot of times when Brad would admit, ‘Yeah, I don’t know.’ But he’s a really smart guy. What I love about Brad, to be totally honest, is that Brad admits what he doesn’t know.”

The former campaign adviser who discussed the president’s frustrations also offered a simple prediction about how Trump will react if he continues to lose ground to Biden.

“The president is not going to pay for losing campaign strategy,” the former adviser said.

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