There has been much said in the press and on social media in recent weeks concerning Donald Trump’s steady decline in the polls and while the president cannot seem to avoid shooting himself in the foot – all on his own – he’s had some great help from his own campaign. Jonathan Last penned a great piece over at The Bulwark regarding Brad Parscale – campaign manager for Trump’s 2020 reelection effort – and it closely mirrors my own impressions. The Parscale strategy up until now for Trump in 2020 appears nearly identical to a cheap spam mail campaign you routinely flag to your spam / trash folder in Outlook.
But before diving into the spam aspects of Trump’s campaign, Jonathan begins by reminding us of Brad’s recent accomplishments:
(1) Five days before Trump’s Tulsa rally, Parscale publicly bragged that there had been “over 1M ticket requests.”
(2) The Trump campaign rented out not only a 19,000 seat arena but overflow space next to it, planning to have both Trump and Pence make remarks inside the arena and outside on a stage built for the overflow crowd.
(3) The population of the entire Tulsa metro area is 991,000, meaning that to believe that “over a million people” would show up for the rally, every man, woman, and child in the region was going to show up. And another 10,000 more people from out of town too.
(4) On Saturday – according to the Tulsa Fire Marshall – 6,200 people showed up for Trump’s rally.
Parscale is an interesting character to observe for many reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time he’s ever been the manager of a political campaign. Not just “of a presidential campaign,” but of any political campaign and many are scratching their heads wondering why Trump ever signed off on the idea that a spam mailer type political campaign could ever be effective?
One answer could be that it wasn’t Trump but his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is the hidden hand of Trump’s 2020 campaign and who has been spending a lot time lately at the campaign’s Northern Virginia headquarters where he signs off behind the scenes on everything from spending to digital initiatives to top-level hires.
In the normal course of events, presidential campaign managers are people who spend decades learning how electoral politics function, from the micro to the macro. They have run dozens—sometimes scores—of campaigns at every level. They understand paid and earned media work; the mechanics of voter mobilization; how the narratives of a campaign are born, can be massaged, and can—or can’t—be changed.
How is it working out for Donald Trump to have Parscale learning on the job?
Admittedly, every campaign is unique in some ways but never in our modern history have we seen a presidential campaign take on the look and feel of a spam mailer campaign as we have the seen from the Parscale 2020 Trump campaign effort so far.
The last time a sitting president failed to win reelection was 1992. Also, since 1932 elected presidents seeking reelection have lost only twice and Trump currently trails Joe Biden by more than 9 points in the RealClear average and has trailed Biden in all but four of the polls taken in the race ever. Today’s New York Times/Siena College poll finds that Biden is ahead of the president by 14 points!
So . . . not working out great for the president.
Every previous president was a man who had spent his life learning how government, or at least the military, functions. America electing Trump to be president was like Trump hiring Parscale to run his campaign. And look how that’s worked out for us.
In the months leading up to this point there was a lot of talk about Parscale’s brilliance, how he had built a “Death Star” of such vast technological brilliance that the Trump campaign would march to victory this coming November.
The nature of Parscale’s digital weapons was that they were invisible to anyone but the select individual voter. He claimed that the right voters would be targeted at the right time with tailored messages that would push them to the polls and deliver a victory. And all of this would become clear on November 4, but until then, the president and the rest of his team have to trust Parscale’s black box.
The problem with Brad’s “black box” seems to be that there is no idea behind Trump 2020. The attempt to brand “Keep America Great” for the reelection campaign was dead on arrival. The country is now in shambles and Trump is deeply unpopular with the polls trending in the wrong direction.
Except for the HUGE corporate tax cut, most of Trump’s major legislative initiatives have failed during his first term in office. The president made a weak effort to claim a victory today at the southern border in San Luis, Arizona, marking completion of 200 miles of border wall. Critics were quick to note that much of the 200 miles is actually rebuilt or reinforced fencing that already existed and still represents only 10% of the nearly 2,000 miles of border land separating the country from its southern neighbor.
It has become painfully evident that Trump has neither plans to complete his much hyped campaign promises nor any new initiatives to take their place. Instead, Trump 2020 has the Parscale digital operation and the assurance that Big Data will be enough to hump the campaign to a narrow Electoral College victory.
Maybe Brad Parscale really is the greatest data wiz to ever dabble in politics. Maybe he figured out a secret sauce that no one else in the long history electioneering has ever seen.
Anything is possible.
On the other hand, whenever we on the outside get glimpses into what Parscale’s operation looks like to ordinary voters, it does not look especially sophisticated. In fact it looks worse than amateurish, nothing more than cheap gimmicks and easily confused with spam mail.
There are the email surveys sent to people who are opposed to Trump and have questions that are hilariously out-of-date. There are the emails claiming that the recipient is one of Only 100 people who have been hand-selected by president Trump himself to join an exclusive “Trump 100 Club.”
And let’s talk about the text messages
One of Parscale’s talking points has been how the Trump campaign is using text messages in “new and deeply effective ways” that have never before occurred to political operatives.
I personally subscribe to the Trump campaign via email and text messages, only to see what the campaign is really up to. After several months of seeing the same thing over and over, I can assure you that what they are doing appears to be nothing “new” and much less “deeply effective”.
After months of subscribing to the 2020 Trump campaign, all that I have seen so far are constant texts and emails that look little like a presidential campaign but more closely resemble something you see from advertisers pushing miracle shampoos that regrow hair overnight on bald men, secret diets promising to make you lose 50 pounds in 3 days, work at home schemes making 10 grand a week and on and on.
It would be really difficult for me to over-emphasize how truly low budget it all appears and it seems to be an odd strategy to keep Trump’s base plugged in and motivated; much less pull in any fringe conservatives, moderates, independents or disenfranchised Democratic voters.
Looking through my phone, I actually get more text messages from the Trump campaign than anybody else – including my wife – and the entire campaign appears to be more desperate than energizing. Here are just some of the Trump text messages that come in a spam like barrage, each and every day:
And now here’s a Trump ad from Facebook served up just last weekend: That’s right. Brad Parscale’s fully-armed and operational battle station served up an ad featuring the floating head of . . . Barack Obama.
I have wondered out loud if there is anyone in the Trump camp checking this stuff before it goes out? I mean, seriously – this has got to be a joke, right? Is Brad or anyone else in the Trump spam campaign aware that today in 2020 Obama’s favorability rating is +24? And then compare that to Trump’s favorability rating today which is a dismal -13. Does Brad Parscale really think that contrasting Trump with Obama is going to help Trump get re-elected?
It makes zero sense.
So here’s where Jonathan made an interesting assertion in his article, concluding that not only did Parscale not build anything resembling a Death Star, but instead this entire 2020 campaign for the president is nothing more than a Nigerian prince scam, targeting the biggest mark of all – Donald Trump.
And the big guy bit.
If you’ve ever wondered how Parscale managed to hold on even this long, the answer may be that he pulled enough sensitive information into his orbit that he made himself not only indispensable – but un-fireable – at least up until now.
That look you saw on Trump’s face Saturday night in his ‘Walk of Shame’ upon returning to the White House from the embarrassment at Tulsa? That wasn’t sadness, shame or defeat.
It was the realization that he’s been the mark all along.
Thinking about it a bit longer, it strikes me how much the Trump 2020 reelection campaign closely resembles the Trump presidency. Gimmicks, exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies promising unrealistic, improbable and fantastic prizes bordering on the bizarre.
And on a personal note, while I am unimpressed with the logic driving Brad’s master plan, I pray that whatever leverage that he is holding over Trump, Jared or perhaps even both of them is enough to keep him on the job through November 3rd. It’s highly entertaining to watch as the Trump campaign goes down in flames and I can’t think of a more deserving political candidate to “benefit” from the Parscale Death Star.