May 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside the Trump campaign's game of trial Tetris

Animated illustration of the video game tetris, with the falling pieces all gold/orange T shapes.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Former President Trump will be in Wisconsin and Michigan today for two rallies before rushing back to New York — the latest in a series of tweaks his campaign is making as he runs for president while on trial on felony charges.

Why it matters: Squeezed by time, location and a judge's gag order, Trump's team essentially has begun playing a game of campaign Tetris — making rallies and other events fit into tight scheduling windows on Wednesdays and weekends, when court's not in session.

  • It's also having a restless Trump make quick campaign stops in New York, and scrubbing statements on social media and the campaign's website to comply with the gag order.

Zoom in: Part of the campaign has temporarily moved to New York to be with the ex-president. Advisers Jason Miller and Steven Cheung, along with press secretary Karoline Leavitt, are there.

  • Also in New York: Trump's personal valet Walt Nauta, who's usually with the ex-president at Mar-a-Lago. Nauta was indicted in the federal case in Florida that accuses Trump of withholding classified documents.

Trump's hush-money trial could last another month, so on most weekdays his campaign leans largely on social media posts and his televised rants outside of court.

  • Listen carefully to those rants: They've changed since Judge Juan Merchan began cracking down on Trump for violating the gag order that's supposed to keep him from criticizing witnesses, jurors, court staff and others.
  • Now Trump aims his firehouse of criticism mostly at President Biden, Merchan (allowed under the gag order) and Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg (also allowed).

Between the lines: Trump's court days start at Trump Tower, where his aides meet him in the morning to accompany him to the Manhattan criminal courthouse.

  • After Trump's dismissed from court, usually about 4:30 or 5 pm ET, he usually makes a statement to reporters. Then he's dropped off at Trump Tower, where his aides linger for a while as he has evening meetings, returns calls and meets with his political or finance teams, a campaign official told Axios.

Trump's campaign has adjusted the times of three of its morning meetings to account for the court schedule, two people familiar with the campaign's daily routines tell Axios.

  • Last week, Trump's team set up a campaign stop with about 100 supporters at a construction site, after Trump complained that there weren't sufficient crowds outside the courthouse to support him.

With the gag order in mind, the political side of Trump's campaign has begun taking cues from his lawyers on when and how to message about the case.

  • After Merchan ruled Tuesday that Trump had violated the gag order and fined him $9,000, the campaign took down two posts from its website. One was of a New York Post opinion piece calling Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, a likely witness in the case, "a serial perjurer."
  • Seven Truth Social posts by Trump that were deemed to violate the gag order also were taken down — the first time he's been forced to amend any comments he's made on his platform.
  • A campaign official told Axios that his team is making sure that additions to Trump's website moving forward will comply with the gag order.

Trump continues to say he feels boxed in by the order and the trial itself.

  • "The Judge has taken away my Constitutional Right to FREE SPEECH," he complained in a post Tuesday, accusing Merchan of "RIGGING THE PRESIDENTIAL OF 2024 ELECTION."
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