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Image: Brad Parscale
Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Target Center, on Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis.Evan Vucci / AP file

Trump thinks firing his campaign manager will help (but it won't)

The Republican ticket would benefit from a better candidate, not a better staff. It's why Trump hiring his fifth campaign manager in four years won't help.


It was just two months ago when Brad Parscale was in a boastful mood. Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager published a tweet that said, "For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign," which he added was "firing on all cylinders." Parscale described the president's political operation as the "Death Star," and included a gif of the science-fiction weapon firing.

But as those who saw the "Star Wars" movies know, things didn't turn out well for those in the "Death Star."

President Donald Trump announced a new campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort Wednesday, four months before voters head to the polls, in an effort to reset a campaign that has already been through multiple failed reboots.... Trump said in Facebook post, and later on Twitter after the cyberattack on the platform, that he is removing his top campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and tapping deputy campaign manager Bill Stepien, a veteran Republican operative, to take over.

As part of the announcement, the president tweeted that he expects his 2020 race will be "a lot easier" than his 2016 campaign, in part because "our poll numbers are rising fast."

In our reality, however, Trump's poll numbers are awful and stagnant. What's more, no politician whose poll numbers were "rising fast" has ever felt the need to fire his or her campaign manager.

If this broader dynamic sounds at all familiar, it's not your imagination. While competitive presidential candidates have traditionally not changed campaign managers this late in the process, Donald Trump has an awkward history in this area: between June 2016 and August 2016, the then-Republican candidate had three different campaign managers.

John Harwood noted at the time that it’s “not crazy for voters to wonder what continuous campaign turmoil says about Trump’s ability to be chief executive of United States government.”

Four years later, I think it's safe to say Harwood's observation was prescient.

Nevertheless, the obvious question at this point is whether a change in the campaign's leadership will change the trajectory of the race. Anything's possible, of course, but there's reason for skepticism.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump isn't losing because of Parscale; Trump is losing because of Trump. Parscale's operation has been badly flawed, but much of the electorate has turned against the president because of his many failures and scandals -- which generally isn't the sort of thing a campaign manager can fix.

The Republican ticket would benefit from a better candidate, not a better staff.

As for Parscale's successor -- Trump's fifth campaign manager in four years -- Bill Stepien brings some notable baggage of his own. In fact, Stepien was a central figure in Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal in 2013. When the then-New Jersey governor fired him, Christie said, "I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the emails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien."

Seven years later, Stepien is bringing that "tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference" to the national stage.