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Beset by pandemic, Trump plots new way to reach voters — through landline telephones

Francesca Chambers, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

The late-game personnel change was reminiscent of Trump's decision less than 2 1/2 months from the 2016 election to replace campaign chief Paul Manafort. He named Conway campaign manager and brought in Steve Bannon as chief strategist and David Bossie as deputy campaign manager just before Labor Day that year. Trump was losing in most public polls then to Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Stepien had been deputy campaign manager prior to his promotion and has primarily turned to existing Trump campaign staff for senior positions rather than hiring additional advisers to the national campaign.

In one of his first acts as campaign manager, Stepien notified staff working at the campaign's headquarters that they should expect to work 18-hour days, including on the weekends, and be consumed by the campaign heading into the final stretch.

"There's some people in there that kind of fell into place, that don't necessarily even want to be there," one person said of the discussion. "It should be 18-hour days and it should be seven days a week. We're 100 days out. If not now, when?"

Many of the young aides had never worked on a presidential campaign before, and some had not intended to participate in one. The frequent staff purges in the White House resulted in some of the young aides working out of the Republican National Committee's annex in Arlington, Virginia, as an alternative to finding other employment, and they had not been told what to expect.

Stepien has made structural changes to the campaign, promoting Justin Clark to deputy campaign manager and making Nick Trainer director of battleground states, where the Trump campaign and the RNC have a combined 1,500 staff as of July. The alumni of the 2016 campaign left senior positions at the White House after the 2018 midterm elections and took roles advising the president's reelection campaign.


"It's putting people in the right places at the right time," said Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump campaign.

In his new role, Trainer oversees engagement with elected Republicans, making sure they are looped into the campaign's activities. Meanwhile, Jason Miller, another Trump loyalist who served as a campaign adviser in 2016, rejoined the campaign in early June and is broadly overseeing strategy.

Miller is applying the messaging approach he took during Trump's impeachment trial, when he co-hosted the "War Room" podcast with Bannon, to attacking Biden. Miller starts each morning by sending a team email, outlining the themes he wants campaign staff and surrogates pushing that day, a person familiar with the emails said.

"If Stepien is the left brain of the campaign, then Miller is the right brain," said Andrew Surabian, Republican strategist and an adviser to Donald Trump Jr., who is a key force in his father's campaign.


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