Trump’s top man in Florida: 2020 campaign will be ‘bigger, badder, better’ than last time

Q&A with campaign manager Brad Parscale on Florida, Trump’s Panhandle comments and how he’ll micro-target voters.
Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Donald Trump, speaks to reporters before a Seminole County Republican Party dinner Thursday in Lake Mary.
Brad Parscale, campaign manager for President Donald Trump, speaks to reporters before a Seminole County Republican Party dinner Thursday in Lake Mary.
Published May 11, 2019|Updated May 11, 2019

LAKE MARY — Brad Parscale still isn’t comfortable headlining Republican Party fundraisers.

The 6-foot-8 Kansan who President Donald Trump has entrusted to win him the White House again had no experience in politics before taking over digital operations for the Republican nominee in 2016.

“Honestly, I feel like a fish out of water,” Pascale, now the campaign manager (and a recent Florida transplant), said. “And I love it.”

Parscale was the main attraction Thursday at the Seminole County Republican Party’s annual dinner in Lake Mary, where he promised a campaign that’s “bigger, badder, better” than the brash, combative rhetoric that has become Trump’s calling card. He has previously said the re-election effort could spend up to $1 billion and he’s promising a campaign of 6 million volunteers.

“This is a war for the future of our country,” Parscale said, as though already responding to critics of the scorched earth campaign that’s forthcoming. “If we don’t fight for everything we have, we’re going to lose.”

Before he regaled GOP activists and insiders with his plans for 2020, Parscale spoke with reporters about his outlook on Florida, what he learned in the last election and his reaction to Trump’s latest controversial comments in the Panhandle.

What do you know about Seminole County?

The I-4 corridor is obviously important. We obviously run a different kind of campaign now with the kind of micro-targeting things we can do now. But obviously this part of the state has such an important factor into what we do for 2020 to win the state and its why we have so many rallies on this corridor from Tampa to Orlando and on both sides.

This is a county President Trump won in 2016 but Andrew Gillum actually won it in 2018. What have you seen when you look at it?

Trump wasn’t on the ticket, so I worry when Trump is on the ticket. If you’re looking at the polling, I think we’re in a great place for all of Florida. Obviously we don’t have any other races in 2020. It’s presidential only pretty much from a statewide race, no senate, no governor race and I feel very comfortable where the president is here. We’ve seen with the economic growth and the hot economy here with unemployment rates down by 3.5 percent, I think we’ll be in a good place. I think what the president is doing by trying to lower the cost of healthcare, also work on lowering drug prices will have a good effect on what we need to do. Also, honestly, there’s large portions of Florida, what we’ve done in Israel, from moving the embassy to Jerusalem and getting the Golan Heights.

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When you’re doing that micro-targeting, what’s the messaging here versus the Panhandle where Trump was (Wednesday)?

That’s not how micro-targeting works. That’s how old Karl Rove style works and I tell him that. Micro-targeting works on an individual basis so it’s about how you are, and how you react and how you do things. So it doesn’t really depend on if you live here or if you live in the Panhandle, it’s all about the numbers statewide and if you’re registered to vote. But, those pool still seem to be in certain regions, so you can see rallies are still tied to those global numbers. Our advertising and direct (get out the vote) targets are much more individualized, regardless of where you live.

What are you taking from 2016 into 2020?

There were a lot of lessons learned in 2016. I was not the campaign manager in 2016. As you probably know, I’ve never been campaign manager before. But, I was Jared Kushner’s deputy, I was digital director … I think the lessons learned will be valuable because it showed you how important we need to build out coalitions this time and understand and talk to certain demographics or people. We can’t do everything digitally. Sometimes we need to get out and have an event and get people that they recognize and have them explain what prison reform is or what other school choice things we’ve worked on or other issues that don’t get the national attention that possibly immigration gets and healthcare. So that’s very important. There’s other things that occurred along the way and understanding how field operations work, and how to work with the party better and the RNC and I think you’re seeing that in the combination with Trump Victory, the RNC and the campaign. So those lessons learned from 2016, having such a grassroots campaign that was fly by night, and now having three years to plan has created an entirely different foundation the way we’re going to build a campaign. Not that we have different goals and I don’t have a different boss, that’s all the same. But fill in those holes where we weren’t as good and could have done better, and possibly had even a bigger lead against Hillary Clinton.

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You were recently on CBS and did their morning show on Sunday, and you rattled off a list of states that were really important to the campaign in 2020 and Florida wasn’t one of them. Why is that?

That’s not what they asked me. They asked me where I was expanding the map. (Parscale was asked on CBS ‘Face the Nation,' “Where are you most focused?” Parscale said, “There are some key states. I think the president expanded and changed the map. Obviously we have to go back and win Michigan again, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, we plan on also being in Minnesota very soon. I think New Mexico is in play in 2020, I think New Hampshire. I think we continue to grow the map. I think Nevada, even Colorado.”)

Obviously Florida is important, hence why we were here last night at a rally in Panama City and why we continue to do so many things here in Florida. Florida is important. They were asking me where I was expanding then map. Where I saw opportunity, where I really see the battleground being. And I do see the battleground in the rust belt states. I also see an expansion of the map. New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, those are states we did not win in 2016 that I think are in play in 2020. But look, we’re still going to have to fight in Arizona, Florida, and we’re going to have to fight in North Carolina, Pennsylvania. Those states are still there. Florida will always be a swing state, I think as long as I’m alive. But, I think this is Trump country, and I think is a place where he’s very strong, and I think the fight is going to be past that step. And I think right now that’s what the number’s prove.

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What is it like to come to an event like this where three years ago the president might have been shut out of something like this?

Why would he have been shut out? I don’t ever agree with that. Look, the media shut him out of things like this.

He wasn’t asked to do things like this.

He probably was. You have no idea how many things we were asked for and just couldn’t do. I think the president right now is clearly the leader of the Republican Party and the party is behind him. His approvals are in the low 90s in the Republican Party and by the way, he’s the most Republican president in history and most support from the Republican Party.

Can you respond to the media storm that’s happened following the comments last night in Panama City? (Trump in his speech lamented that there are too many immigrants crossing the border but not enough border patrol agents or weapons. “How do we stop these people?” he asked. Someone in the crowd yelled: “Shoot them!” Trump smiled and replied: “Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”)

This president would never condone violence. He was actually saying the opposite thing at the time it happened, saying violence is never the way. This president actually wants to help the people coming across the border and make sure nothing happens to them. A humanitarian crisis was occurring, and by coming across, stuck with nowhere to go, nothing to do.

How do you feel about the competition you guys have this year?

I think they’ve got a long ways to go. Remember, at this time in 2015, the president hadn’t even announced his campaign. It wasn’t until June 16, I believe, of 2015, and we’re not there yet. I think they have a long ways to go. They’re all running to the left and we’re going to let them all figure out what they are and then I’ll sit down and see who’s left.