Trump Campaign Downsizing, Letting Most Staffers Go

November 13, 2020by Francesca Chambers, McClatchy Washington Bureau
U.S. President Donald Trump removes his mask upon return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 5, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Trump spent three days hospitalized for coronavirus. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s campaign is downsizing and letting most of its staffers go this weekend, with the exception of aides who are helping with election-related litigation efforts.

Some aides who work at the campaign’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, were informed this week that Sunday would be their last day. Others were asked to remain until Nov. 30. Some who are viewed as crucial to supporting the campaign’s legal operations have not been given any end date.

The Republican National Committee is also reducing staff at its headquarters and in field operations. Employees who have been let go are being paid through the end of the month.

It is standard practice for campaigns and political operations to wind down and lay off staff members after an election, regardless of the outcome.

“Campaigns are unique in the sense that you’re working at 100 miles an hour one day, and then the day after the election, it basically just stops. If you win, then you move into a transition phase into office,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist who in 2012 worked for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “If you lose, that’s it, and the only work that’s left to do is to shut down the operation.”

President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign is providing health care coverage to staff through the end of the year while he builds out his administration-in-waiting. A spokesman for his campaign declined to say how long staff members would be paid.

Some are being moved to the payroll of the transition team, which has been raising money for months. Others will be appointed by Biden to the presidential inaugural committee, although the size of that effort is not yet clear because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic National Committee field staffers will also be let go this month, with some leaving in the next week and others by the end of the month. But headquarters staff members are mostly expected to remain in their positions until there is a new party chair, a spokesman said, with the exception of those who will end up working on the transition or inauguration.

A new party chair of Biden’s choosing is likely to take over early next year. DNC members formally vote on the position, but it is customary for the incoming president to name a loyalist and strong fundraiser to the job with the expectation that the choice will be ratified.

Biden has not made his preference for party chair public. Trump said in a Wednesday evening tweet that he had asked RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to serve another term. Although it is technically up to RNC members to select a party chair, the sitting president’s endorsement all but guarantees that McDaniel will be elected to the post for another two years.

Republicans and Democrats said that two Senate races in Georgia that will be decided by Jan. 5 runoff elections meant that more political operatives would be staying on at party committees than is usual after a general election.

“It is typical procedure for a party committee to downsize after an election. We will have all the resources we need for litigation and recounts, as well as the critical runoffs in Georgia to hold the Senate,” a spokesperson for the RNC said in a statement. “The RNC will pursue every instance of voting irregularity or fraud to the fullest extent.”

Trump has not conceded the election to Biden. “He wants to gaslight to the point where everyone thinks this election is stolen so that he’s not a loser. He’s got to win. He has no other choice,” a former Trump adviser said.

“We are still in this fight,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said at a Monday morning staff meeting.

Deputy campaign manager Justin Clark and Stepien took note of who was in attendance at the hastily put together meeting that one campaign aide who was present described as a “loyalty test.” Many, but not all, campaign staff memberds attended, the aide said.

Those in the office had been answering the campaign’s voter fraud tip line and assisting with the legal fight. The campaign continues to raise money for its legal efforts and to pay off campaign debt.

“Unlike most campaigns which close down immediately after Election Day, because of the unprecedented nature of the 2020 race, we have long had a plan to continue on to see President Trump reelected,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.

“However, staffers related to events, trips, door knocking and grassroots organizing played roles that ended on Election Day and obviously play less of a role after Election Day,” he said. “We are raising significant amounts of money to fuel the president’s challenges and will retain appropriate staff to see the postelection process through to the president’s victory.”

Trump has not spoken to the media since he delivered a televised statement alleging widespread election fraud from the White House briefing room two days after Election Day. He played golf at his Virginia club last weekend and visited Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. He has tweeted but was not expected to deliver any televised remarks this week.

People familiar with his activities said he was meeting with White House and campaign advisers about next steps.

“Just as he promised, President Trump is fighting hard for a free and fair election while at the same time carrying out all of his duties to put America First,” Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement. “He’s also working to advance meaningful economic stimulus, engaging members of Congress on a government funding proposal, and ensuring state and local governments have what they need to respond to the ongoing pandemic.”

The reality that Trump would be leaving office in January began to set in for White House staff members this week, despite Trump’s refusal to concede. They began to quietly shop their resumes to trusted former colleagues.

“Eyes are wandering, as they should,” one former White House aide said.

Those closest to Trump, such as his son-in-law Jared Kusher, daughter Ivanka Trump and social media director Dan Scavino, were expected to remain until the very end.

Republicans who hope to have a future in Washington and in Republican politics independent of Trump were said to be the ones encouraging him to concede.

“But the ones like Scavino, there’s no Scavino without Trump, he is an appendage of the president. Same thing with Jared and Ivanka. There’s no independent of Donald Trump for them, so it’s those that are saying fight it out,” the former White House aide said. “They’re on the ship. They’re not getting off the ship. They’re incentivized to say fight it out, because what do they have to lose?”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany created a stir this week when she appeared on television as a Trump campaign adviser. She told McClatchy that it was in a voluntary capacity on her personal time and she was not being paid by the campaign for that work.

White House staffers will be in the position of competing against Trump campaign staffers for a limited number of jobs on Capitol Hill, where Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives, but lost a net total of one seat in the Senate, not including the outstanding runoff races in Georgia. They will also face a job market where there is a pandemic-fueled unemployment rate of 6.9% as of the end of October.

“Those who are leaving the Trump orbit are going to have that ‘T’ tattooed on their head, which is going to severely limit where they are able to go after this,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic consultant who was a senior adviser in 2016 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “And so I think the job landscape is very challenging right now for Trump-affiliated Republican staffers.”

Campaign staff members often seek unemployment insurance after elections to tide them over for several months until political operations begin hiring for the next election cycle. The same will be true of Democratic operatives who do not want, or will not be offered, a role in the next administration.

Trump’s administration has been withholding funding and access to information from Biden’s transition team until the election is certified by the Electoral College next month.

Biden said that would not prevent him from making decisions on who will fill White House and Cabinet positions.

He named Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff. Biden is expected to make more senior staff announcements this month.

“We are already beginning the transition. We’re well underway. And the ability for the administration in any way, by failure to recognize our win, there’s not a change to the dynamic at all in what we’re able to do,” Biden said. “I’m confident that the fact that they’re not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do between now and January 20th.”


(c)2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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