Wednesday 22 November 2017

Trump finds few allies to dance to his tune

Many experienced political strategists are unwilling to work for the Republican candidate, writes Bill Barrow

Pipe down: A bagpipe player in full dress stands next to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as he arrives at Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland last week to officially reopen his golf resort. Photo: Getty
Pipe down: A bagpipe player in full dress stands next to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as he arrives at Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland last week to officially reopen his golf resort. Photo: Getty

Bill Barrow

Donald Trump has finally conceded that to best compete against Hillary Clinton he needs more than the bare-bones campaign team that led him to primary success. But many of the most experienced Republican political advisers aren't willing to work for him.

From Texas to New Hampshire, well-respected members of the Republican Party's professional class say they cannot look past their deep personal and professional reservations about the presumptive presidential nominee.

While there are exceptions, many strategists who best understand the mechanics of presidential politics fear that taking a Trump pay cheque might stain their CVs, spook clients and cause problems at home. They also are reluctant to devote months to a divisive candidate whose campaign has been plagued by infighting and disorganisation.

"Right now I feel no obligation to lift a finger to help Donald Trump," said Brent Swander, an Ohio-based operative who has coordinated nationwide logistics for Republican campaigns dating back to George Bush.

"Everything that we're taught as children - not to bully, not to demean, to treat others with respect - everything we're taught as children is the exact opposite of what the Republican nominee is doing. How do you work for somebody like that? What would I tell my family?"

Trump leapt into presidential politics with a small group of aides, some drafted directly from his real-estate business, with no experience running a White House campaign. An unquestioned success in the GOP primaries, they have struggled to respond to the increased demands of a presidential election.

As in years past, the primary season created a pool of battle-tested staffers who worked for other candidates, from which Trump would be expected to draw. But hundreds of such aides have so far declined invitations to work for him.

They include several communications aides to Chris Christie, as well as the New Jersey governor's senior political adviser, Michael DuHaime, who said he rejected direct and indirect enquiries to sign on with the billionaire.

Chris Wilson, a senior aide to Ted Cruz, said the Texas senator's entire paid staff of more than 150 ignored encouragement from Trump's team to apply for positions after Cruz quit the presidential race. Wilson said that even now, many unemployed Cruz aides are refusing to work for the man who called their former boss "Lyin' Ted".

That's the case for Scott Smith, a Texas-based operative who travelled the country planning events for Cruz, and earlier worked on presidential bids for Bush and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

"It's very clear that none of us are going to work for Trump," Smith said. "Even if I wanted to work for Trump, my wife would kill me."

Smith, like many experienced strategists interviewed for this story, noted the intense personal sacrifice required of presidential campaigns. Many advisers do not see their families for long stretches, work brutal hours on little sleep and enjoy no job security.

With Trump, Smith said: "I would feel like a mercenary. I can't be away from my young children if it's just for money."

Trump's need for additional staff is acute. His paltry fundraising network brought in less than $2m last month. He has just one paid staffer to handle hundreds of daily media requests and only a few operatives in battleground states devoted to his White House bid.

Last month, Trump fired Rick Wiley, who was the campaign manager for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a former 2016 candidate, and was brought in to run Trump's nationwide get-out-the-vote effort. Last Monday, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who acknowledged he lacked the experience needed to expand Trump's operation.

"This campaign needs to grow rapidly," Lewandowski said. "That's a hard job and candidly I've never grown something that big."

Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the campaign's hiring. A former adviser, Barry Bennett, played down any staffing challenges, suggesting the campaign should be able to double its contingent by the party's national convention next month.

Trump announced four new hires last week to supplement a staff of about 70. That's compared with Clinton's paid presence of roughly 700, many of them well-versed in modern political strategy.

Trump's senior team, including campaign chief Paul Manafort and newly hired political director Jim Murphy, largely represent an older generation of political hands more active in the 1980s and 1990s. The campaign's new Ohio director, Bob Paduchik, led state efforts for Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

A new generation of top talent active in more recent years has shown little interest in Trump. In Iowa, experienced operative Sara Craig says she will not work for Trump or even support him. "I am more interested in working on down-ballot races," said Craig, who helped elect Joni Ernst to the Senate from Iowa and directed a pro-Bush super political action committee.

Ryan Williams, who worked on Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns, said he's happy working for a consulting firm, where he's involved with various other elections across the country, as well as with corporate clients. "When you sign up for a campaign, you're putting your name on the effort. Some of the things that Trump has said publicly are very hard for people to get behind."

But Paduchik offered the kind of positive perspective expected of a campaign on the move. "It's been great, the response I've gotten. Republicans in every corner of Ohio are excited about Mr Trump's campaign."

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator who ignited the race for the Democratic nomination, has effectively admitted defeat by saying he will vote for Hillary Clinton.

Mr Sanders also disclosed that he was negotiating for a possible position in a future Clinton administration. He stopped short of officially endorsing his opponent and did not suspend his campaign, but did speak about it in the past tense.

The 74-year-old senator said: "My vote will in all likelihood go to Hillary Clinton. We are working as we speak with the Clinton campaign to see what kind of agreements we can work out."

Asked if that included discussion of a future job, he said: "That's what we're doing too, so don't tell anybody."

Mrs Clinton declared herself the presumptive Democratic nominee more than two weeks ago but Mr Sanders has refused to drop out of the race.

Mr Sanders said he now recognised his opponent was in a winning position, having secured more delegates during the months-long state by state primary race.

He said: "I'm pretty good at arithmetic. I don't have the votes to become the Democratic nominee, I know that."

His campaign will continue into the party's convention next month where Mr Sanders will push Mrs Clinton to adopt some of his left-wing policies.

He said: "My job as a candidate right now is to fight for the strongest, most progressive possible platform at the Democratic convention.

"There is enormous support for making college tuition free. I would like to hear Mrs Clinton say yes. I would like to hear her say that we should guarantee healthcare as a right, that we should raise the minimum wage to $15, that we need new trade policies."

The campaign between Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders became increasingly bitter, with some of his supporters declaring they would never vote for the former first lady.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made a series of advances to Sanders supporters urging them to vote for him, claiming they share his anger at the political establishment.

Asked if he himself could ever vote for the billionaire businessman, Mr Sanders said: "Oh God, please. I will do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump. In so many ways he'd be a disaster for this country. We do not need a president who has bigotry as the cornerstone of his campaign.

"I think, everything being equal, Mrs Clinton should be able to beat him because he is a very poor candidate."

Mr Sanders said he regarded his campaign as a success: "At the end of the day we did a lot better and went a lot further than people thought."

Sunday Independent

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