Among the allies urging the Trump campaign to change tack or risk defeat is someone who knows a thing or two about winning populist elections.
Former White House chief strategist and Trump 2016 campaign chief Steve Bannon has raised the alarm this week over a faltering campaign, speaking out publicly and privately for an end to a rally-based strategy, leaving Trump insiders to wonder whether he is maneuvering for a return to influence.
After Saturday’s disastrous rally in Tulsa, Bannon demanded that the reelection effort concentrates on amplifying action taken by the president in office and is urging other conservative commentators to go on the attack to force a shake-up, according to multiple sources.
“He is trying to get conservative commentators to go negative on the campaign so that they wake up and realize they are in bad shape before it is too late to do anything,” said a former White House official.
Instead, coverage was dominated by empty seats and news that members of the Trump campaign had tested positive for COVID-19.
New polls brought fresh gloom. A New York Times/Siena College poll showed Biden picking up support in key demographic groups and that more than 60% of respondents disapproved of Trump’s stance on race relations after the death of George Floyd in police custody.
The result is a campaign under growing pressure to reverse the tide.
Publicly, campaign officials are sanguine. They dismiss polls as missing the real picture and say that everything can change in the four and a half months before the election.
However, senior Republicans have begun to express their concern at a campaign that is not reading the signs.
This week, Bannon offered his solution during an appearance on the John Fredericks Radio show.
“He’s the president of the United States,” he said. “He’s not a candidate. You act like president of the United States, you take action like the president of the United States, you govern like you are president of the United States, you are going to be reelected.”
He applauded Trump’s visit to the border wall in Arizona as the sort of event that would resonate with voters.
The campaign, he said, should be focused on the president as a law-and-order leader who created jobs and understands the threat from China.
“We don’t need rallies,” he said. “We need the president five days a week out there doing those types of things, showing people he as president is the driver of action.”
Bannon left the White House in August 2017 after Trump expressed displeasure at his high media profile and amid reports that he clashed with Jared Kushner.
Last year, he set up the Bannon WarRoom podcast to cover Trump’s impeachment, a project which has since expanded to take in the coronavirus pandemic and built a huge online audience.
Insiders believe his influence is on the up after Jason Miller, a co-host of the podcast, took up a senior position with the reelection effort.
The result is developing into a tussle for control of a misfiring campaign, pitting Bannon against his old White House nemesis Kushner.
“Of course Steve’s view is that he is the man to fix it all, but after Saturday’s disaster, it is clear that things can’t go on like this,” said a Trump World insider.
A veteran of the 2016 campaign said the White House and the campaign needed to hear the message.
“You can’t just say fake news, fake polls,” he said. “We need to fix it.”
Miller dismissed any idea that Bannon had a hotline into the campaign.
“I hear Steve’s voice over the airwaves every day,” he said. “Like millions of Americans, I’m a daily listener to WarRoom: Pandemic, which airs at 10 a.m., and I sometimes also watch the 11 p.m. replay on Newsmax or download the podcast.”
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.