Political News

Trump campaign pushes forward while shutdown drags on

Posted January 21, 2019 8:01 p.m. EST

— One month since the start of the shutdown, the Trump 2020 campaign is chugging ahead with staffing and organization -- and even fundraised off the paralyzed federal government. But the shutdown may yet prove to be a drag on the campaign and help set the tone for the race, depending on how long it endures and how it gets resolved.

The campaign's internal efforts have carried on as normal, in contrast to the chaos of a "rudderless" White House, as it was described by one administration official.

"The campaign has more autonomy and direction than the White House," said one administration official of the current state of affairs. "We are operating on a skeleton staff, don't know who's in charge and have no singular message to push. Between the shutdown and the new chief, we are a rudderless ship."

The Trump campaign got an unusually early head start on its 2020 efforts; Trump filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission the same day as he took office: January 20, 2017. Since then, a bare bones staff has been able to carry out consistent -- and unmatched -- levels of fundraising.

Led by campaign manager Brad Parscale, the campaign's key leaders continue to work and build their teams, conducting interviews for senior positions and communicating and coordinating with state and local officials. Later this week, Republicans from across the country will convene to strategize at the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in New Mexico.

The organization has been quietly working as the shutdown back-and-forth has dominated the news cycle.

On Friday, the campaign announced key hires for its delegate and party organization team, which will be focused on "organizing the country's state, county and local Republican parties, managing the delegate selection and ballot access process, and executing the national convention whip operation," according to a press release. The team's key goal will be to stave off any anti-Trump primary challengers leading up to the Charlotte convention more than 18 months from now.

The political moment

While the daily logistical operations continue unimpeded, the political impact of the moment has been two-fold for the campaign: It's galvanized supporters through online fundraising and has put one of Trump's 2016 campaign promises -- building a southern border wall -- into focus.

A recent fundraising pitch included the opportunity to send a brick to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

"For every $20.20 dollars raised by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT, we will send a BEAUTIFUL BRICK directly to the offices of Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi," the solicitation read. The fine print adds that "faux bricks" will be sent to the offices, presumably to save on postage.

The clever gimmick appeared to work. Parscale announced a "record first hour of donation and new donors since starting the re-elect." The campaign did not respond to CNN's request for comment on how many bricks were ordered.

More broadly, if Trump is able to come out of the showdown with a perceived "win," it will certainly set the tone for his re-election campaign.

Trump has already indicated it will be a defining issue in the race.

"It is becoming more and more obvious that the Radical Democrats are a Party of open borders and crime. They want nothing to do with the major Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border. #2020!" he tweeted last week.

Party leaders, such as Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who helped Trump win the Hawkeye State in 2016, say it's crucial that Trump stands firm in his demands from Democrats.

"The President must hang in there for funding for a wall," Kaufmann told CNN. "It was as fundamental of a campaign promise as he made."

For Iowa Republicans, who will be crucial to Trump's 2020 coalition, Kaufmann says it is imperative that Trump continue to follow through on his reputation of fulfilling his 2016 promises.

"If President Trump loses that reputation, I've got problems as a Republican chair with enthusiasm from Republicans. You must have money for that wall, so you've got to hang in there," he said.

And those on the far right echo those sentiments; conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter have suggested Trump will lose the support of his base if he doesn't build a wall on the southern border.

Trump cannot give "one single solitary inch" on his proposed $5.7 billion in border wall funding, said one conservative strategist.

"I don't even think he can say he'll compromise for $2.5 billion. There's a line in the sand and he needs his wall ... If he doesn't get it, then we'll be looking at which other president is going to be elected," the strategist said.

But polling indicates he has a fine line to walk as the shutdown drags on, especially with independent voters. A CNN poll conducted earlier this month by SSRS found that 55% of those surveyed saying Trump is more responsible for the shutdown than are Democrats in Congress, while 32% say the blame rests mostly with the Democrats. About 9% say both are responsible.

The poll found that independents are more apt to blame Trump (48% to 34%), and are most likely to say both sides are responsible (14%).

Travel on hold?

It remains to be seen whether the campaign's travel schedule will be affected by the month-long shutdown, but so far, the President has largely refrained from travel.

Trump has repeatedly lamented remaining holed up at the White House, tweeting over the holidays that he was "all alone" while his family spent the week at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, but he's clearly savvy to the optics at play.

"I like the symbol of me being here and them being at some play in a nice location having a good time," he told Fox News' Judge Jeanine Pirro during a call-in appearance on January 12, referring to few dozen Democrats on a retreat with lobbyists in Puerto Rico.

Trump told Pirro that he hadn't "actually left the White House in months," Trump told Pirro. "I've been here virtually every night, I guess every night other than one day I flew to Iraq and then to Germany to see our troops."

In addition to his trip abroad, Trump visited New Orleans, where he addressed the Farm Bureau's annual convention, a speech to a friendly crowd that had the meandering quality and enthusiasm of a rally. He also traveled to Texas, where he toured the US-Mexico border, touting the need for a barrier. He canceled his planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The President wasn't expected to have done any campaign-related travel yet in 2019, and it's still unclear whether travel for fundraisers in the spring will be postponed if the shutdown continues. But the incumbent advantage of travel cannot be understated; when a sitting President travels for official White House business, it is undoubtedly beneficial to the campaign.

The White House has been planning a series of official trips to key states, such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, to build support for the President's US-Mexico-Canada trade deal before Congress votes on the legislation. With the shutdown barreling ahead, those visits could be pushed back.

And as a growing number of Democratic hopefuls begin to criss-cross early voting states, it's inevitable that Trump, who thrives on the energy of his signature campaign rallies, will grow restless to get back on the trail himself.

Kaufmann, the Iowa Republican chairman, suspects that the shutdown has solidified the President's support in rural areas of his state. But he also acknowledges that "we've got work to do" to earn support from more independent-minded voters in urban and suburban areas. Iowa Republicans lost two House seats to Democrats in the 2018 midterm election. The sooner the shutdown ends, the sooner Trump can get to work.

"We'd love to have him out here," Kaufmann said. "I anticipate a very, very active campaign, I expect a lot of resources in Iowa. We are a swing state."