Trump’s Candidacy Is in Motion, but His Campaign Is a Work in Progress
There is no one working for him with the title of campaign manager. The mechanics of how to access reams of vital data that he amassed about his supporters over eight years were being hammered out until the last minute before his Tuesday night campaign introduction. A key planner of the announcement event has a day job as the C.E.O. of a social-media company.
Though former President Donald J. Trump has talked of a third run for the White House since before he completed his term, the rollout of his actual candidacy — as the Republican Party grapples with the fallout from midterm losses — has been surprisingly slapdash. Despite hosting about 500 people at his Mar-a-Lago home for his kickoff, the campaign did not take the opportunity to also hold a fund-raiser with them.
And, behind the scenes, aides have been wrestling with Mr. Trump’s impulse for airing grievances, particularly over the 2020 election, in hopes of keeping him focused on the future.
Advisers say that Mr. Trump is determined to recapture the feel of his 2016 campaign, when he ran as an insurgent against the political establishment and relied on a small core group of aides. But he does not fit the profile of an outsider: He is a former president and the leader of his party. His 2016 campaign, while ultimately successful, was riven by infighting for months. And while the small group of aides and advisers involved in Mr. Trump’s nascent campaign reflects a desire to stay lean, it also reflects how many former aides Mr. Trump has come to disdain — and, in some cases, vice versa.
“It’s always a little bit chaotic,” said Bryan Lanza, who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Yet, he added, “I tend to believe that’s the way the president wants it, so why go against the grain?”
The open and overlapping investigations into Mr. Trump have also chilled the desire of many political operatives to associate too closely with the former president, lest they face possible legal jeopardy themselves, a number of his former aides said — even though Mr. Trump pressed for an early announcement in part out of the belief that it could provide something of a shield against indictment.
Donald Trump’s 2024 White House Bid
The former president, whose historically divisive time in office shook the pillars of the country’s democratic institutions, is seeking another term.
- Ignoring Concerns: Donald J. Trump’s announcement of a third bid for the White House comes as many Republicans blame him for their weak showing in the midterms.
- Trump’s Calculus: “In the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose world of Mr. Trump, all successes accrue to him, and any failings are someone else’s fault,” writes Jonathan Weisman.
- Fact Check: In a rambling speech announcing his run, Mr. Trump made a number of false claims about his policies and President Biden’s record.
- Justice Dept. Inquiries: Mr. Trump’s unusually early announcement was motivated in part by the idea that a formal candidacy may help shield him from multiple investigations.
Mr. Trump’s communications adviser Boris Epshteyn, who has established himself as an in-house counsel on some of the investigations Mr. Trump is facing, is likely to take a role as a senior adviser in the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter.
At the same time, some former aides who attended the Mar-a-Lago announcement expressed interest in helping the new campaign but said they had not been asked. Major roles that have not been announced as filled include political director, communications director, lead pollster and data chief.
In his two previous campaigns, Mr. Trump went through a string of campaign managers. A decision was made not to have a formal campaign manager this time. Instead, two veteran political strategists will effectively split the duties of one: Susie Wiles, who has functioned as Mr. Trump’s top political adviser for two years, and Chris LaCivita, a former political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and adviser to numerous candidates, who has resigned as a partner at FP1 Strategies to join the Trump campaign, two people briefed on the matter said.
Another veteran adviser, the pollster Tony Fabrizio, will work for the super PAC supporting Mr. Trump rather than directly advising him or his campaign.
Both Ms. Wiles and Mr. LaCivita are seasoned operatives with an understanding of the political landscape and the mechanics of campaigns. But it remains to be seen how closely their advice will be heeded. Mr. Trump often turns to informal advisers for affirmation of his own ideas and impulses.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 100-person inner circle or whether it’s a five-person inner circle,” Mr. Lanza said. “He listens to everybody’s opinions, suggestions, recommendations — and then he does whatever the hell he wants. And by the way, he’s batting .500. That’s not bad. It gets you into the hall of fame.”
To be sure, Mr. Trump’s campaign start occurred unusually early for a presidential run, driven by both a belief that his being a candidate could shield him from criminal exposure — since he could denounce any prosecution as politically motivated — and the desire to blunt growing momentum behind Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Jason Miller, the chief executive of the conservative-oriented social-media firm Gettr, who helped arrange for Tuesday night’s announcement, dismissed questions about the incipient campaign team. “This week is about President Trump’s announcement, his message and his vision for our country,” Mr. Miller said. “The inside-baseball campaign details, which only the Washington insiders care about, can follow later.”
Among those making clear that they will not return for another White House run were Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Ms. Trump issued a statement saying she did not plan to be involved in politics: “While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena.”
Mr. Kushner, who, like his wife, was a senior adviser to Mr. Trump and oversaw the campaign from within the White House, attended the Mar-a-Lago announcement but has indicated he will not take part in the new campaign. As a family member by marriage, Mr. Kushner was one of a few people able to navigate Mr. Trump’s explosive management style without constant fear of reprisal, and he sometimes shielded other aides and expedited decision-making because he was seen as having Mr. Trump’s full proxy.
The week of Nov. 14 had long been the Trump team’s target date for an announcement. But nearly all of his advisers suggested he scrap the plan when Republicans fared far more poorly in the midterm elections than they had expected. Mr. Miller, the Gettr executive, was among those who publicly urged Mr. Trump to delay it until after the Dec. 6 runoff for Senate in Georgia.
Tuesday turned out to be the same night that House Republicans gathered in Washington to select their leadership team, meaning some of Mr. Trump’s most vocal allies in elected office could not attend.
Mr. Trump is also believed to have invited each of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, but few came. Two committee members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they received repeated calls from Trump aides pressuring them to attend, but declined, to avoid being seen as having taken sides already as the Republican primary field begins to take shape.
It is unclear whether any of the major donors who backed him previously will return. Already, the hedge fund executives Stephen A. Schwarzman and Ken Griffin have said they will not support Mr. Trump in 2024. And other donors have privately complained that they had yet to receive any outreach from Mr. Trump’s team.
Mr. Trump has had an expansive small-dollar fund-raising operation, and that is expected to make up the bulk of his campaign money. But while Mr. Trump had banked $100 million ahead of his announcement across multiple political accounts, none of those funds are permitted to be used to finance his candidacy directly. So his aides raced to come up with workarounds.
The biggest account, Save America PAC, had nearly $70 million, a chunk of which is said to have been transferred to an aligned super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., that is being overseen by Mr. Trump’s former spokesman Taylor Budowich.
But the Save America PAC technically owns Mr. Trump’s vaunted database of supporter names, phone numbers and email addresses. To legally access that data, the campaign is raising money through another committee that is expected to share its proceeds with both the campaign and the Save America PAC.
Under federal law, Mr. Trump cannot use his new presidential campaign committee for his personal benefit. But restrictions are less clear for the Save America PAC, which paid more than $10 million in legal fees in 2021 and 2022, including some to Mr. Trump’s defense team related to the F.B.I.’s search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The choice of venues for Mr. Trump’s kickoff, meanwhile, ensured that his private company would profit from the event — a form of self-dealing he has engaged in for more than seven years.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a politician, but I guess that’s what I am,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday evening. “I hate that thought.”