WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign was a small group of mostly political novices, loyal to the real estate mogul, and led by a rotating cast of managers with varying ideologies.
His White House staff expanded beyond the loyalists, but it has continued to suffer from high turnover while also struggling to recruit veteran Republicans.
The president's 2020 reelection team, however, is shaping out much differently.
Veteran political operatives and top Hill staffers — the type of experienced Republicans who have shown little interest in working for the Trump White House — have already joined the 2020 campaign, and many more are expected to in the coming months.
The president's 2020 campaign is managed by Brad Parscale, a Trump ally who had no political experience before the 2016 campaign but is credited with a digital operation that helped lead to Trump's surprise win. One of Parscale’s first moves almost a year ago was bringing on Chris Carr, a longtime Republican strategist, as political director. He also joined forces with the Republican National Committee to an extent that is unprecedented for a modern presidential campaign.
And more recently, the campaign has focused on building out its communications operations, adding Tim Murtaugh, who has worked for the RNC, Republican Governors Association, and several campaigns, as communications director. The team has also added Erin Perrine from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office and Matt Wolking, who has worked for Sens. Bill Cassidy and Marco Rubio. Recently departed White House communications director Bill Shine is also heading to the campaign in a senior adviser role, joining other former White House aides: Bill Stepien, director of political affairs, and Justin Clark from the Office of Public Liaison.
"The difference between an insurgent, antiestablishment campaign and the reelection campaign of a sitting president is enormous," said Kevin Madden, who worked on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. "It's like the difference between a pirate ship and a ocean liner."
"The challenge in 2016 was convincing campaign talent that Trump was a real candidate who would see the effort all the way through," he said.
With Election Day still 20 months away, the campaign has raised more than $100 million and has a several dozen staffers split between offices in Washington, DC, and New York City — a stark contrast to the 2016 campaign, which one month before the election still employed only about 130 staffers.
The campaign has also already hired the directors for each area of responsibility, according to a spokesperson, and they are beginning to build out their teams. Trump’s reelection effort is using its head start over Democrats’ campaigns to lay “the groundwork for recruiting and training almost 2 million volunteers across the nation,” the spokesperson said. “Time is one of the biggest advantages we have and we aim to use it.”
Those close to the administration also acknowledged that the campaign, which so far hasn't seen the type of internal feuding that was common in the 2016 campaign and at the White House, has been a more attractive option for ambitious Republicans.
"The talent pool is a lot higher than the people willing to go to the White House," said a source close to the campaign.
Another former White House official said joining the campaign made sense because it is the "closest thing a Republican operative can get to working in an actual White House,” which he and other sources described as too much work for little long-term payoff since several companies and lobbying firms have been reluctant to hire from the Trump White House.
"You're working for the president, but not in as toxic of an environment and for an entity that doesn't tarnish your résumé the way the current White House would," the official said. "On the campaign of adults, you're honing your skills, bettering yourself, and making connections. In the White House of children, you're wasting your time playing whack-a-mole every day."
Besides a CNN report about Trump’s outside advisers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie not being invited to a White House meeting about the president’s reelection efforts, so far drama between various power centers in the president’s orbit has been mostly contained.
Scott Jennings, a George W. Bush campaign and White House alum, said Trump’s reelection team staffing up and deploying talent early is one of the “several natural advantages” of incumbents so that they can start defining opponents and organizing in key states.
The early hiring from Parscale — bringing in Carr — made experienced Republicans more confident in the operation, he said.
It sends “a strong signal to operatives that the political shop is going to be professionally run and well-organized, so that gives people confidence in deciding whether to sign up for this tour of duty,” Jennings said, adding that so far the campaign, despite Trump’s tendency to defy norms, is functioning like one would “expect a president’s reelection campaign to be run.”
Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and has remained critical of the president, had a more cynical view of members of his party joining the campaign.
“$$,” he texted BuzzFeed News.
“What else could it be? The honor?”