President Donald Trump has demoted his campaign manager and replaced him with a new one. Brad Parscale is out of the top spot; former Chris Christie aide Bill Stepien is in. You can almost have the momentum shift. Everywhere I go (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much nowhere these days) people are discussing nothing but the Stepien surge. It is Stepienmania, folks.
Parscale, who will now be some type of senior adviser for digital, raised an archive amount of money: $266 million in the most up-to-date quarter; $131 million last month alone. That, to employ a technical term, is a ton of dough.
But the campaign is also spending a ton. According to Open Secrets, it spent $16 million on legal fees and compliance costs between 2018 and 2020. (By comparison, former President Barack Obama’s legal fees for his re-election were about $5.5 million, and former Vice President Joe Biden’s have been roughly $1.3 million.) But, let us face it: Trump has already established some rather extensive legalities. And I suspect that mammoth legal bill just isn’t Parscale’s fault.

Someone at the Trump campaign, though, does not know what they truly are doing. They sent me — scarcely a potential Trump donor — a fancy Trump membership card. Not low priced card-stock, actually. This is just a credit card-looking, gold-embossed card.

I asked legendary Democratic direct mail guru Dave Gold why the Trump campaign might have sent that if you ask me. “This makes sense to me as a re-solicitation package” that he said, “sent to someone who has given $100 or $250 to get another $250 or even $500. But as a prospecting mailer? Someone is going to make money off this, but I can’t imagine how it could be the Trump campaign. Jared Kushner has a better chance of bringing peace to the Middle East than Trump does making money off that pitch.”
According to the New York Times, the campaign also spent a reported $325,000 running Facebook advertisements, promoting Parscale’s social media pages, among others. I don’t know a lot of about Facebook, to tell you the truth. But spending that way may have been Parscale’s downfall. Trump, who got rich, at least simply, off of his father’s money, doesn’t appear to like other people getting rich off the Trump brand. The Lincoln Project — anti-Trump Republicans who understand how to throw a punch — made a really effective ad roasting Parscale for his newfound wealth: allegedly including a $2.4 million Florida home, two Florida condos (owned with his family) and a Ferrari.
In an even more conventional form of spending, Parscale has invested heavily in early advertisements in key states — reportedly dropping more than $14 million to defend seven states Trump won last time: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. Parscale was playing defense in red states — but achieved it work?
Let’s see. Trump is tied or trailing in Arizona, according to the poll. He’s behind by six to nine points in Florida. He’s trailing narrowly in Georgia. He’s behind in North Carolina. Tied in Iowa, which that he won by ten points in 2016. He is slightly behind Biden in Ohio, which that he won last time by nine percent. And in Texas — my beloved home state — which no Democrat has carried because the year Parscale was born, 1976, he is basically tied: leading by one slim point in a single poll, by four in another.
Looks like all Parscale’s lavish ad spending has bought Trump a big, fat goose egg. If the election were held today, Trump would lose — and by significantly more than two or three points.

But maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t Parscale. Maybe Trump has what political ad makers call the “Dog Food Problem.” The nutritionists concoct the healthier dog food; the graphic artists create a cool logo; the engineers make an easy-opening can; the ad makers create Spielbergian images of golden retrievers bounding through amber waves of grain. But there is one problem: the dog won’t eat it. Maybe Trump’s problem is not Parscale; maybe it’s him.

This is common in campaigns — especially losing ones. You can’t fire the candidate, so you dump the campaign manager. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis fired John Sasso, and replaced him with Susan Estrich, who went on to reduce a 17-point lead in 100 days. Republican President George H.W. Bush introduced legendary political fixer James Baker to shore up his White House and his re-election bid in August 1992. In November, Bush lost 32 states and the District of Columbia, a total of 370 electoral votes, to Democrat Bill Clinton.

I have already been a campaign operative nearly all of my adult life. I really like campaign people. But sometimes even the most effective campaign can not elect a fatally flawed candidate. It’s not the monkey, Mr. President. It’s the organ grinder.

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