- REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
As he looks set to embark on a significant winning streak, Donald Trump has nevertheless aimed in recent weeks to reshuffle his campaign staff with an eye toward the Republican National Convention.
More and more, it appears that Ted Cruz could pose a significant threat to Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, in securing the party’s nomination.
Over the past week, Trump advisers have reportedly started building a parallel campaign structure that gives more power to new delegate strategist Paul Manafort and adviser Rick Wiley while marginalizing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, according to Politico.
The shift in the campaign’s power structure comes amid waning certainty that Trump will lock down the nomination before the Republican convention this summer. Trump faces fierce competition from Cruz, a Texas senator, who has proven that his campaign is superiorly organized at this point.
Cruz has been focusing on winning the support of delegates who could tilt the balance in his favor at a contested convention. Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, has been criticized for a supposed lack of structure and organization.
A source familiar with the campaign told Business Insider that Trump has been running a communications-based campaign from the beginning. The unprecedented strategy gave him breathtaking amounts of free air time. But it has proved to be ineffective in the in-the-trenches battle for delegates.
“The problem was set by Donald himself,” the source familiar with Trump’s campaign operation told Business Insider.
His campaign strategy “consisted of him going out to these states and doing mega speeches with big turnout and the networks covering these speeches wall-to-wall, plus debates, plus as many interviews as he could smash into one day,” the source added.
But a campaign that’s built for maximum effect on TV might not be well suited to an in-the-trenches delegate battle at a contested convention, the source said.
“You’re now in a completely different phase of the campaign, where the premium is on knowledge of the rules, knowledge of the players, and is in organizational efforts in the states,” the operative familiar with the campaign said. “The campaign was never built for this.”
- Carlo Allegri/Reuters
To catch up to Cruz on winning over delegates, Trump has reportedly given Manafort an expanded role in the campaign – one that has him overseeing its convention strategy. But this has reportedly caused some confusion within the ranks – Politico reported that Trump is “sidelining” much of his original campaign team and creating “an entire mirror organization” with “conflicting chains of command.”
And on Tuesday, CBS News reported that Lewandowski had been demoted to a role that “amounts to body man and scheduler.” Manafort was reportedly elevated to run the campaign.
The reorganization comes after Lewandowski was put under scrutiny over an incident with a female Breitbart reporter at a Trump event as she was trying to ask the candidate a question. A battery charge against him was dropped, but the story dominated several news cycles as the saga played out.
Manafort, meanwhile, is reportedly “consolidating power” with people who used to take orders from Lewandowski. In some cases, staffers are receiving different orders from Manafort and Lewandowski, according to Politico.
To that end, Politico also reported on Monday that Trump has given Manafort and Wiley “the reins” in upcoming states, providing them a $20 million budget for May and June contests. At least one Manafort “loyalist” has reportedly submitted his resignation, according to the publication.
One operative familiar with the campaign told Politico: “There are two campaigns being run in Trump world. And nothing is happening because no one is sure who they’re supposed to be listening to.”
Trump, for his part, addressed the staff shake-up in an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.
“When you bring other people in, I could see some people, their feelings get a little bit hurt,” Trump said. “Frankly, you know, we’re at a position where we’d like to see if we can close it out.”
Lewandowski didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nunberg butted heads with Lewandowski before his ouster. And he thinks it’s clear that Manafort’s hiring signals a shift in Trump’s strategy.
“Paul may be just called the convention manager, but for all intents and purposes he’s the campaign manager,” Nunberg told Business Insider.
- Thomson Reuters
The operative familiar with the campaign told Business Insider that Trump is augmenting the inexperienced staff with people who are more experienced.
“What the Trump people have going for them in enthusiasm and now they get a little experienced guidance,” the operative said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Nunberg, meanwhile, said that Manafort “inherited a bad situation.”
“The Titanic isn’t sinking,” Nunberg said. “The Titanic has sunk. And even somebody of Paul’s great ability won’t be able to solve this problem.”
Reports of turmoil within the Trump campaign might make it even more difficult to attract top talent. A GOP fundraiser told Politico that the profile the campaign is targeting is “that of someone who suffered a professional setback or has been on the outs and needs redemption.”
“It’s kind of a no lose: If things go poorly, you can blame it on Corey and the other guys,” the fundraiser said. “But, if you somehow do save the campaign, you can take full credit.”
The focus in the Republican presidential race has turned toward delegates, rather than state contests, as a contested convention looks increasingly likely. Trump is far ahead of Cruz in the delegate battle from state contests, but Cruz’s campaign has been wooing delegates who could switch their support to Cruz if a nominee is not selected on the first ballot at the convention.
To win the nomination outright, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates. But if no one in the party wins that many through state contests, the convention could become deadlocked. And after a first round of voting, many delegates who would be bound to Trump on the first ballot could vote for a different candidate on subsequent ballots.