Mar 28, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's RNC struggles in swing states as Biden's team grows

Illustration of two clipboards: one organized, the other messy.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Trump-led Republican National Committee is scrambling to boost staffs and give loyalty tests in seven battleground states at a time when several GOP state parties are plagued by dysfunction and disarray.

Why it matters: Less than eight months before the Nov. 5 election, significant parts of the RNC's get-out-the-vote operation in states likely to decide the election are playing catch-up after Trump's team ousted 60 staffers in its recent takeover.

  • About a third of those ousted staffers were state directors and regional political directors, jobs that are key to recruiting, training and mobilizing volunteers far ahead of Election Day.
  • They've been in limbo for two weeks, after receiving an email telling them they were being laid off but could reapply for their jobs.

Zoom in: Some have reapplied, and have been asked to participate in virtual interviews with less than a day's notice, a person familiar with the situation told Axios.

  • One RNC staffer on the payroll through the end of this month was kicked out of their office by a Trump campaign aide, who also locked the staffer out of the data server the RNC has used to assist local campaigns.
  • In the interviews, Trump's team has asked some candidates whether they believe the 2020 election was stolen, the Washington Post first reported.
  • Trump's RNC initially cut the party's community centers for minority voters and a program to encourage early voting, but reinstated them after a backlash within the party.

The big picture: Many Republicans fear the RNC upheaval — and unrelated chaos in state parties, particularly in swing states Michigan and Arizona — is a setback for a party that for years has tried to get more volunteers to recruit support in their neighborhoods.

  • That model was the GOP's version of the local organizing methods that Democrat Barack Obama used to get elected president in 2008 and 2012.
  • Obama had "a snowflake theory of organizing," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told Axios. "It starts with a person on the inside, and then each layer out, you try to expand."

Before Trump's takeover, the RNC staff — hoping to stay aligned with Trump's team at the state level — ran the names of some prospective RNC state directors by Trump's team before making those hires.

  • Even those hires have been cut, Axios has learned.

The other side: President Biden's team has been bringing on experienced staffers to lead efforts in swing states — which also include Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

  • Those efforts include piloting digital and in-person outreach programs and slowly opening up field offices. A senior Biden official told Axios the campaign this month has opened 44 offices in Wisconsin, 12 to 14 offices in Pennsylvania and 20 offices in Michigan.
  • It's hired Brandon McPhillips, who ran Sen. John Fetterman's (D-Pa.) 2022 campaign; Jen Cox who ran Sen. Mark Kelly's campaign (D-Ariz.) that year, and Tanya Bjork, a veteran Wisconsin operative.
  • It's also targeting places where Republican Nikki Haley got more primary votes than Trump, an effort to capitalize on Trump's not reaching out to her voters.

What they're saying: "March was about expanding leadership teams, developing the office [and] staff infrastructure, volunteers doing trainings…All that stuff obviously takes time," Biden battleground states director Dan Kanninen told Axios.

  • Trump's team "spent this winter fighting with Nikki Haley and spending money on legal bills, and they're not doing any of this stuff," Kanninen added.
  • "Democrats want to talk about process because they don't want to talk about Broken Braindead Biden and his absolute failure," Trump campaign spokesperson Danielle Alvarez told Axios. "The Trump campaign will raise the money, deploy the necessary assets and win."

Reality check: Trump, like Obama, has a loyal and passionate following and has shown an ability to attract large numbers of unpaid volunteers.

  • Trump's operations this cycle in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — which relied heavily on local volunteers to turn out voters — helped shut down his GOP competition.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Tanya Bjork's last name.

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