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Semafor LogoShelby Talcott
Shelby Talcott
politics

‘Unmitigated Disaster’: How Donald Trump's campaign failed to launch

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Donald Trump gives a thumbs up sign outside Trump Tower.
REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado

Donald Trump launched his candidacy three weeks ago, but you’d barely know it from watching his campaign. There’s been little sign of activity as the candidate heads off nonstop scandals and Trump veterans say they’re unsure who, if anyone, is in charge.

“Where are the events? Where are the rallies? Where’s the staff?” one former Trump campaign official said. “I don't know. I don't understand the plan there. I don't think there is a plan.”

Trump has primarily communicated through Truth Social since his launch, with video appearances at a Republican Jewish Coalition conference (before his Ye dinner became public) and an event advocating for supporters imprisoned for attacking the Capitol on January 6th.

undefined headshotShelby's view

Interviews with eight figures close to Trump world, from former 2020 campaign officials to current allies, revealed broad concerns that things have reached a crisis point.

“It’s been an unmitigated disaster,” a former 2020 campaign senior advisor told Semafor. “Low-energy speech followed by dinner with a neo-Nazi, impending indictment from a special counsel, and now this thing about terminating the Constitution. It’s just inept, and his rollout accomplished nothing.”

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A Trump campaign spokesman disputed that their operation was in disarray, and said they were already building teams in early primary states.

“This is a marathon and our game plan is being implemented even though the presidential calendar hasn’t been set yet and the 2022 midterm cycle just ended," they said. "We’re focused on building out the operation and putting in place a foundation to wage an overwhelming campaign that’s never been seen before."

Hiring could be a challenge. Staffers from his prior campaigns say they and many of their former colleagues are staying away this time, turned off by an unorganized operation and, above all, the president’s unyielding focus on his election loss to President Joe Biden.

“I don't know anyone working on it,” one 2020 campaign staffer said. “And I know a lot of the people who I worked with, and really respected, on the 2020 campaign also have no interest in joining.”

“They don't want to touch this reincarnation of the campaign with a 10 foot pole,” another former re-election official said.

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The former president has a reputation as a small donor powerhouse, but the campaign hasn't released fundraising details since its launch and some Trump veterans are expecting an exodus of larger contributors, many of whom donated to Ron DeSantis’s re-election campaign.

It’s been a difficult recent stretch for the former president, including personal and professional legal woes, criticism over his candidate endorsements in the midterms, and ongoing fallout from his dinner with rapper Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes that he has done little to mitigate, despite pleas from allies.

But as Trump supporters look for guidance on where to relay their concerns and how to publicly respond, it remains unclear who, exactly, is running the show.

“Nobody really has clarity on who's calling the shots,” one person close to Trump world said. “When you ask them, they just say ‘Trump, he's calling all the shots.’”

Trump has yet to name a campaign manager, instead recruiting top advisors to serve within a loose structure without official titles for now.

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Republican strategist Chris LaCivita as well as top advisors Susie Wiles and Brian Jack are playing a role, according to previous reports confirmed by Semafor. As the campaign continues to take shape, a second person close to Trump world told Semafor that LaCivita is likely to serve as a sort of campaign manager and Wiles will be a general consultant.

Boris Epshteyn remains at the top levels of Trump’s legal battles and is a senior member of the team. Others, like former spokesman Taylor Budowich and pollster Tony Fabrizio, are working with MAGA Inc, a super PAC that cannot coordinate with the campaign.

Also involved are former Trump aides Vince Haley, Ross Worthington and Jason Miller. Haley and Worthington, two people told Semafor, crafted the former president’s 2024 announcement speech. Miller, who remains focused on his social media platform GETTR, attended the speech-prep and served in an unofficial capacity to get the campaign off the ground, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Some are concerned that the former president has welcomed more fringe members into the mix who are happy to stoke his conspiracy-fueled rage over 2020. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone were seen at Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement, and while it’s unclear what sort of a role they might play going forward, sources believe they have Trump’s ear.

“When you bring those people into your orbit, the donors and those independents...they run away and screech their tires peeling out of the parking lot,” one person close to Trump world said. “They just want no part of it.”

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

Some allies say the former president, who faced similar criticism during his successful 2016 run, shouldn’t be judged by traditional standards of what a campaign looks like.

“Nobody has ever announced and sustained a two year presidential campaign in the history of the United States,” another person close to Trump said. “So how is this supposed to be done? That is being written by Donald Trump, not by critics who think that he should be acting like it’s 2023.”

Title iconNotable
  • Perhaps no single story has done more political damage to Trump recently than the disappointing midterm elections, which critics in the party say showed his brand of conservatism was politically toxic. Politico has a visual rundown of exactly where Trump’s endorsed candidates succeeded and failed, helpfully separating them based on how competitive the races were.
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