On Tuesday morning, Donald Trump made clear he’s running for re-election and named his 2020 campaign manager: Brad Parscale. In 2016, Parscale was Trump’s digital guru, a high-ranking but obscure campaign hand who stood out mainly because of his size (he’s 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and a former scholarship basketball player at University of Texas, San Antonio). Like others in Trump’s political circle—Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino Jr.—Parscale rose from lowly beginnings. He was initially brought on as a freelance web designer and rose to play a key role in Trump’s shocking upset of Hillary Clinton.
Parscale has also drawn the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is reportedly investigating the Trump campaign’s data analytics operation. Last fall, Parscale testified in private before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
profiled Parscale in a cover story on Trump’s digital operation that I co-wrote with Sasha Issenberg two weeks before the election. Drawing on our time with Parscale and those around him, here’s why I think Trump chose him to run the re-election campaign:
Loyalty. Trump is big on loyalty (although it often runs one way) and hasn’t always gotten it from his campaign managers. Paul Manafort’s loyalty, for instance, certainly seemed to be directed elsewhere. Parscale knows this, and his tuning fork is always pitched to the precise register Trump wants to hear. When we visited him at the Trump data center in San Antonio, Texas, just before the 2016 election, he told us: “My loyalty is to the family. Donald Trump says, ‘Jump,’ I say, ‘How high?’ And then I give my opinion of where I should jump to. And he mostly listens to me.”
Coming into Trump’s orbit in 2011, Parscale designed websites for Trump’s realty company and the Trump Winery. He knows who butters his bread. Even after he became the Trump campaign’s digital director in the summer of 2016, he made clear that his primary concern was to heed the Trump family’s wishes above anything else. “I listen to Jared [Kushner] and [Steve] Bannon,” he told us. “Those are my two guys. Jared tells me to listen to Bannon and I listen to Bannon. I'm the family guy.”
Trump can be sure that Parscale will follow a single agenda: Trump’s.
No Drama. Trump’s 2016 campaign had more drama and plot twists than a Mexican telenovela. His first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with assaulting a female reporter (the charge was later dropped); his second, Manafort, left when cash payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine became public. Manafort has since been indicted on numerous counts by special counsel Robert Mueller; his third, Steve Bannon, had the motto “Honey badger don’t give a shit” and behaved accordingly.
Parscale, by contrast, is generally discreet and was one of the few Trump loyalists who meshed easily with Republican-establishment types after Trump won the GOP nomination. As a campaign official who worked with Parscale put it to me, “He’s a trusted family choice, has their interests at heart and brought the different factions together. He’s not going to try and play in lanes he doesn’t know or understand.”
Digital First. Trump was inordinately proud of his Facebook following in the 2016 campaign, and Parscale was the architect who built it and milked it for millions of dollars in campaign donations. A political newcomer with a background in marketing, Parscale, encouraged by Kushner, thought the same tools he was using in business could apply to politics. “I always wonder why people in politics think this stuff is so mystical,” Parscale told me and Issenberg. “It’s the same shit we use in commercial.”
Parscale and the Trump campaign were especially good at building viral, clickbait-y content and using such Facebook tools as Custom Audience and Lookalike Audience to target it to likely Trump voters. (This recent piece is a good primer on what they did.) More controversially, they also used Facebook “dark posts” (nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls) to target black Americans they thought might support Hillary Clinton and deter them from voting by sending animated ads that used Clinton’s own voice calling some black males “super predators.”
Parscale’s elevation to campaign manager signals that Trump’s presidential campaign is likely to be a digital-first—or at least digital-heavy—affair, that will once again leverage Facebook and social media to galvanize Trump’s followers and raise money.
By Tuesday afternoon, Parscale was already making moves, issuing a statement announcing the appointment of Michael Glassner, Trump’s deputy campaign manager for the 2016 election, as COO for the 2020 run. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and wife of his son Eric, was named as a senior adviser.