WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s troubled re-election bid entered a new phase on Thursday after a leadership shake-up put a longtime Republican political strategist in charge of resetting the campaign even as Trump refuses to show more discipline.
Bill Stepien’s promotion to campaign manager less than four months until the Nov. 3 election is expected to sharpen the Trump team’s focus on the strategy needed to drive votes to the Republican incumbent in critical battleground states, sources said.
Trump is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in both national and battleground state opinion polls as voters heap blame on the president for his handling of the coronavrius pandemic, race relations and economic recession.
Stepien has a deep understanding of data and how to use the information to deploy resources and target voters, said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist who worked with him on Chris Christie’s two successful gubernatorial runs in New Jersey.
“There are not that many campaign veterans in the upper ranks of the Trump campaign,” DuHaime said. “Bill has worked on campaigns at every level. He can dispassionately read numbers and know what to do with them.”
But it is far from clear whether Stepien will be able to do what other senior advisers to Trump could not: rein in an impetuous, undisciplined president who has yet to produce a second-term agenda.
Stepien’s elevation is expected to enhance the power of Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is playing a lead role in the re-election effort, sources familiar with the situation said.
“He is 100% a Jared guy,” said one Trump adviser. “Jared is still running the campaign.”
At what amounted to a handover ceremony, Stepien and the man he replaced, Brad Parscale, appeared together at the campaign’s headquarters outside of Washington on Thursday and spoke to campaign staff.
Trump abruptly demoted Parscale in a Facebook posting on Wednesday night. The president had been privately complaining about Parscale for weeks as his political problems deepened, two advisers said.
Advisers describe Trump as anxious about his dismal poll numbers and eager to know whether they are true, but also resistant to changing his ways.
A campaign official said Stepien exhorted the team to “fight like every day is its own campaign” and said the focus would be on ensuring a strong voter ground game to get Trump’s supporters to the polls.
Stepien is a veteran of President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and John McCain’s 2008 presidential run. He worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign and was White House political director during the 2018 midterm elections.
Stepien and the Trump campaign did not respond to an interview request.
In a “state of the race” campaign statement, Stepien said: “The same media polls that had the world convinced that Hillary Clinton would be elected in 2016 are trying the same trick again in 2020. It won’t work.”
The Trump campaign has come under criticism for failing to define Biden and draw contrasts between Trump and Biden’s visions for the nation. DuHaime said he expects Stepien to help hone the messaging.
“That will be the challenge for the campaign, but I think they realize that and will now work hard to address it,” DuHaime said.
Advisers said the limelight-averse Stepien prefers a behind-the-scenes role that would be fine for a traditional president but could run afoul of Trump, who likes to see members of his team publicly defending him.
“Trump wants fighters on TV,” said one adviser.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis