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During a chaotic week in the White House, Trump quietly ramped up his 2020 reelection campaign

It’s been a long week in Trumpworld.

President Trump at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, in December 2017.
President Trump at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, in December 2017.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

It was a wild week at the White House. One of President Donald Trump’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, announced her exit — without warning. The president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, saw his security clearance downgraded and is under increasing ethical scrutiny over his business deals and foreign contacts. The president attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter over his refusal corroborate a conspiracy theory of widespread conspiring in federal law enforcement against Trump, and there are rumors National Security Adviser HR McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn might soon be out the door. At the same time, Trump decided it might be a good time to kick off a trade war, too, and announced plans to slap large tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel.

In the midst of all of this White House chaos, wheels were turning on another front: Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. The president has been campaigning for reelection since he arrived at the White House — Trump filed the paperwork for his reelection campaign the same day he was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2017. He has been fundraising for the past year, ending 2017 with $22 million in cash, and has held multiple campaign rallies across the country.

First there was Corey, then Paul, then Steve, and now Brad

Matt Drudge spent Tuesday morning teasing a “shock” announcement from President Trump — which turned out to be that Trump is running for reelection in 2020. (Not especially shocking.) But there was in the announcement some new news: that the Trump reelection campaign has tapped Brad Parscale as campaign manager. Parscale was in charge of digital operations in Trump’s 2016 campaign. In an announcement of the decision to tap Parscale as campaign manager, Trump’s son, Eric, described Parscale as an “amazing talent,” and Kushner, said his leadership and expertise will “help build a best-in-class campaign.”

Parscale worked closely with Facebook, Twitter, and Google to boost Donald Trump’s online presence in 2016 and was a major part of his victory. A 60 Minutes profile of Parscale called him the Trump campaign’s “secret weapon,” who leveraged Facebook specifically to give Trump a boost. “I think Donald Trump won, but I think Facebook was the method,” he told CBS’s Lesley Stahl. “It was the highway in which his car drove on.”

Facebook, of course, wasn’t the only technology Parscale used during the 2016 campaign. He is also tied to Cambridge Analytica, Vox’s Sean Illing pointed out, a data analytics form that has become a major focus of both the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Kushner brought on Cambridge Analytica to take over the Trump campaign’s data operations in 2016, while Parscale was developing its online microtargeting strategy. (During his 60 Minutes interview, Parscale denied that the firm was useful.)

The Cambridge Analytica question aside, hiring Parscale as campaign manager is a significant step for Trump’s reelection bid. Trump’s previous campaign managers include Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort (who was chair), and Steve Bannon.

After announcing Parscale, the Trump campaign also put out a press release on building out its leadership team. They said Michael Glassner, the 2016 campaign deputy manager, will serve as chief operating officer of Trump’s reelection campaign, and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, will serve as a senior adviser.

Trump is getting ready to ramp up fundraising efforts

On Saturday, Trump is launching a fundraising initiative that mimics a tactic employed by former President George W. Bush to raise money, according to a report from Alex Isenstadt at Politico.

Trump is appearing before Republican donors at Mar-a-Lago to kick off the plan that rewards donors who have “bundled” thousands of dollars in contributions, meaning they gather campaign contributions from others. Donors who raise $25,000 will join the “Trump Train,” and those who raise $45,000 will be part of the “45 Club.” The program will jointly benefit Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.

This marks a new step in campaign fundraising for Trump’s 2020 campaign, which has already been taking in millions of dollars in donations. His campaign committee ended 2017 with $22 million in cash, having brought in $6.9 million in the fourth quarter of the year alone. Per FEC data, his campaign committee raised $32 million in 2017. His campaign committee and two fundraising committees that are joint operations with the Republican National Committee — Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — raised a combined $52 million in 2017, according to the Washington Post.

A significant chunk of the reelection campaign’s money has gone to legal fees — about a quarter, according to the New York Times. The campaign has also been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Parscale and his firm quarterly for digital advertising efforts.

Isenstadt also reported on Saturday that Parscale will attend an RNC donor retreat at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach, Florida, this weekend. Trump is keeping an eye on potential Republican challengers in 2020, including Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). He’s also trying to focus a lot of his presidential travel around the country on swing states.

“It’s important that President Trump continue to lay the groundwork for a strong reelection campaign because he’s not going to be able to drain the swamp overnight,” Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide, told Politico.

2020 is a long way away, but right now, Trump is pretty unpopular

Trump has kicked off reelection efforts unusually early compared to his predecessors. George W. Bush filed his paperwork in the spring of 2003 for his 2004 reelection campaign; Barack Obama filed in April 2011 for 2012.

Over a year into his presidency, Donald Trump remains a historically unpopular figure. According to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker that averages presidential approval polls, 40.4 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing as president. At the same point in their presidencies, Obama’s approval rating was at 49.1 percent, Bush’s was at 75.5 percent, and Bill Clinton’s was at 55.3 percent. It might not be a bad idea for Trump to try to get a head start.

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