On the cusp of the Republican nomination, Donald Trump has no blueprint for raising the estimated $1 billion he'd need to take on the Democrats and no process in place to begin vetting vice presidential contenders, according to multiple people familiar with the campaign.
He says he has no plan to win a contested convention in Cleveland, confident he can succeed on the first ballot. And one month into the leadership of Paul Manafort, the strategist Trump hired in late March to professionalize his campaign, the internal squabbling hasn’t died down.
The lack of long-term planning highlights one of the Republican party's biggest concerns about Trump: whether he can shift from insurgent bomb-thrower running on the force of his personality to Republican standard-bearer with a professional presidential operation. Trump's advisers defend their approach.
“I think the campaign is totally focused on winning the nomination on the first ballot and positioning for the race against Hillary Clinton," said Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally, "and they’re well aware of both the opportunities and challenges they face in terms of fundraising and the vice presidency.”
Some Trump insiders say it’s hard to see much difference under Manafort so far – and suspect Trump still would have won the last few races without the changes to his campaign. Even Trump's early attempts to look more "presidential" have been uneven, with his trademark combativeness flaring again and his first formal foreign policy speech this week being widely panned.
“It’s hard to be a successful candidate wrangler when the candidate won’t be wrangled,” Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said of Manafort. “It’s pretty clear that Donald Trump is his own campaign strategist, campaign manager and chief tweeter.”
Trump’s campaign will certainly grow and become more efficient, Castellanos said. “There is little point in judging his campaign by the standards of any previous effort. This is a totally different animal,” he said.
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski dismissed doubts, saying Trump and his aides have been underestimated before.
“This campaign has proven we can achieve things that others can’t,” Lewandowski said.
National party officials usually default to the nominee for convention program planning and hefty fundraising for down-ballot races, but no joint account between Trump and the Republican National Committee exists yet (Mitt Romney had one by April last election cycle) and it’s unclear if and when the campaign would take the reins. The Republican National Committee will have accounts in place "very shortly" -- for all three Republican candidates, said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer.
And not everyone is worried. Pennsylvania GOP chairman Rob Gleason, who was among the swing state leaders who Manafort has singled out for private meetings recently, said he thinks Trump aides “really want to get the party on board and they recognize that Donald Trump needs the Republican Party's organization to win in the fall.”
“It’s clear to me that the Trump campaign knows exactly what it’s doing,” Gleason said, adding that Trump will soon have the race clinched. "A lot of people are getting ready for Donald Trump.”
Fred Doucette, co-chairman of Trump’s New Hampshire campaign, said the Trump team instructed him to head to Connecticut and later Massachusetts, where he helped knock on doors in blue-collar neighborhoods and, at Manafort’s instruction, distributed the campaign’s official delegate slates to guide voters on who to elect.
“We have a good machine in place now. Manafort’s delegate strategy coupled with Corey's round-the-clock organized communication to state leaders” has helped voters become educated about the complexities of the delegate process, Doucette said.
“Everybody has growing pains when you bring on a new face," Doucette said of Manafort's arrival, "but you identify their strengths and weaknesses and you work together.”
Manafort has made his mark. Advisers told Bloomberg News that Manafort has taken control of the checkbook, transitioned month-to-month budgeting into a longer-term overview, dramatically stepped up spending and improved the talking points distributed to the campaign surrogates. He's creating a Washington-based policy shop.
Manafort also has added more meetings to the schedule, although Lewandowski's long-time Monday morning senior staff conference call is still the anchor. In addition, Manafort is trying to build coalitions with the Republican establishment, including members of Congress and lobbying groups.
Staffing continues to grow. There are now more than 100 employees, with about 40 in New York and 20 in the Washington office, plus a bigger team of field organizers and state directors.
But tensions persist between the team that stages the rallies, led by Lewandowski, a close confidante to Trump who is at the candidate’s side almost constantly, and the team that handles the ground game, led by Manafort, several people said.
All eyes are on next week’s crucial Indiana primary, where a Trump victory could potentially deal a crippling blow to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee hand who Manafort hired as national political director, has been in Indiana, organizing for the vote there on May 3, as well as for the Nebraska and West Virginia votes on May 10. But, in an illustration of how separate Trump’s ground game team is from his rally team, the candidate never crossed paths with Wiley during his stop in Indiana for a Thursday speech.
Despite Trump’s longtime front-runner status, some traditional organizing tasks remain shelved. Trump doesn’t have a communications team, a digital operation, a research team or opposition research staff.
Several aides said they haven't decided who will lead the vice presidential vetting, but the aim most likely will be to pair Trump with a seasoned politician who would balance the billionaire businessman’s lack of experience in elected office.
And Trump so far hasn’t put together a general election fundraising plan. He has largely self-financed his primary campaign but his advisers have acknowledged he would need to raise money for the general election.
“If he doesn’t raise primary dollars, he’d lose the opportunity to raise millions in additional funds to beat Hillary Clinton,” said Bradley Crate, who was chief financial officer for Romney’s 2012 campaign. “It's all very doable. As of right now, yes, there is still a great opportunity to get a fundraising operation together.”
Whether the most talented GOP fundraisers will agree to work for him, and whether top Republican donors will be willing to write him checks, are separate issues.
For candidates running for president, raising money isn’t the only problem. So is spending it. Setting up and staffing campaign offices in 50 states, contacting potential voters and organizing get-out-the-vote operations are all labor intensive operations that must be meshed with an eye to the campaign's strategy and messaging. David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, likens it to going from a start-up to a major corporation in 18 months.
“The longer you wait to crank up the business, the harder it is to start,” he said.
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