Trump’s campaign stumbles as it tries to go big
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BISMARCK, N.D. — A constant stream of changes and scuffles are roiling Donald Trump's campaign team, including the abrupt dismissal this week of his national political director.
A sense of paranoia is growing among his campaign staff members, including some who have told associates they believe that their Trump Tower offices may be bugged.
And there is confusion among his donors, who want to give money to a super PAC supporting Trump but have received conflicting signals from top aides about which one to support.
On Thursday, Trump secured enough delegates to win the Republican Party for president, a remarkable achievement for a political newcomer.
But inside his campaign, the limits of the real estate mogul's managerial style — reliant on his gut and built around his unpredictable personality — are vividly on display, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Republicans inside and outside of the operation.
Two months after assurances that the candidate would become "more presidential" and transition to a more unifying phase of his campaign, Trump continues to act as if the primary is still underway. His team has struggled to fill top positions, such as communications director, and Trump has made it clear he still sees himself as his own chief adviser.
This week, Trump fired Rick Wiley, his national political director, after Wiley clashed with campaign officials in three states. And while fights among aides are not unusual, the daily leaks of damaging information from within his campaign are prompting worry among Republican officials.
Republican strategists were hoping that by now Trump would be making inroads among mainstream Republican voters and conservative groups seeking to avoid the election of Hillary Clinton at all costs.
"Candidate Trump needs to better understand that he is now the titular head of the GOP," said Scott W. Reed, senior political strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce. "His words and actions will have an impact on the over 6,000 GOP candidates running for office — from federal races down to the courthouse."
Reed has said that while there are many unknowns about Trump, the knowns about Clinton could be a powerful motivations for Republican voters.
Trump, who lent his campaign money during the primaries, has begun fund-raising for the general election, and there are signs that high-dollar donors are willing to help, especially by donating to a super PAC supporting him.
But there are several such groups, and the campaign has yet to unofficially sanction one, leaving some donors confused about which super PAC, if any, they should support. Two super PACs have said they are the premier group supporting the presumptive nominee, neither of which Trump has given his blessing.
Despite his and his aides' talk of unification, Trump has so far proved unable and unwilling to rally the entire party around his candidacy.
On Tuesday, he attacked Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico — a Hispanic rising star and head of the Republican Governors Association — in her home state, saying she was "not doing the job."
And he hit Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, calling him a "choker" and mocking his gait, saying he walked "like a penguin."
Asked for comment about his management style, and the current state of his campaign, Trump declined.
So far, Trump has shown little inclination to adjust to a political world. His penchant for setting up competition and infusing tension between his subordinates has carried over from his real estate company.
"He certainly does love playing people against each other, but in my experience he knew how to make me reach my potential," said Sam Nunberg, who was fired from the campaign in 2015 after a series of clashes with the campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
But, as was the case with Wiley's dismissal, Trump is reliant on information he garners himself and can be swayed by the last person he talked to.
The combat within the Trump campaign has undermined the daily messages the team seeks to promote. On Wednesday, Trump met with dozens of female CEOs and entrepreneurs before his afternoon rally in California, a meeting that was never publicized. Instead, the campaign sent out a message announcing Wiley's dismissal.
The shake-up also hindered the campaign from pouncing on the tough day his likely Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was having, after a State Department inspector general strongly criticized her use of a private e-mail server when she was secretary of state.
To complement its lean operation, the Trump campaign has begun relying on the Republican National Committee for everything from opposition research to communications help and voter data.
On Thursday, Trump expressed confidence that the RNC could take over for what he hasn't done himself. Yet officials in important battleground states have complained for weeks that the Republican committee has not delivered the promised resources for field organizations.
Trump has also been dismissive of data analytics, suggesting in interviews that his showmanship and rallies will continue to be effective.
Reed stressed that Trump needs to grow — and fast. "Trump is the King Kong of the GOP, and when he steps, the world rattles," Reed said. "Trump needs to better fully appreciate and understand this new role."