From Texas Public Radio:
Brad Parscale, a former San Antonio businessman, is now a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. The campaign confirmed the 44-year-old digital marketer has been demoted to senior advisor. Bill Stepien will take over as campaign manager.
The demotion acknowledges the rumors and speculation swirling around the embattled campaign leader since a disastrous rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month and plummeting poll numbers for the president. His adversary, former Vice President Joe Biden, leads him by double digits in several key states.
Parscale, a website maker turned politico, got his start in San Antonio. He lived in the city for much of his adult life. His 6-foot-8-inch frame brought him here to play basketball at the University of Texas-San Antonio, but after a career ending injury, he transferred from UTSA to Trinity University.
After a failed marriage and a failed business attempt with his father, Parscale began coding and selling websites.
“All day Monday through Friday, I would go on the road and just sell. And nights and weekends, I would just code. And I did that for seven years without a day off,” said Parscale in a March 2017 interview.
Eventually he joined forces with successful physical branding guru Jill Giles in 2011 to form the company Giles-Parscale. That was about the same time he landed his first Trump website, it was for his international realty company. In a CSPAN interview he says he bid low.
“However I knew it was probably a good way to get inside the Trump organization, and being from San Antonio, Texas, we don’t have a lot of Trumps,” he said.
Parscale was right. One website after another flowed to him. He often says his last website was the 2016 Trump for President site.
Parscale was asked to be digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign. While he had helped create local advocacy organization Tech Bloc, and was engaged on a couple of related city issues, other than a website for a candidate for county tax assessor, Parscale was thought to be fairly apolitical.
In 2016 he said it was the chance of a lifetime.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I never had the opportunity to have this big of a game, where I could show the different skill sets I have and bring teams together,” he said.
While Parscale remained a constant, campaign managers were rotated through on a semi-regular basis, first with Corey Lewandowski, then Paul Manafort, and finally Steve Bannon. Partially as a result of this and his longtime loyalty, digital was driving the campaign, he said in a post-election conversation at Harvard.
“I saw digital and data is the center of everything, and, that is if you put that where the budgetary control was, you would have a lot of capability. And that was just a different viewpoint than then most people had previously,” he said in 2016.
That was showed by Trump 2016 splitting the spend equally between T.V. and digital, something not ever done before.
He has said for Republicans this was an outsized role for the digital director to play. The large datasets, the RNC, along with Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook dataset that would later destroy that company in scandal, allowed the organization to spend less money more effectively.
They would run hundreds of thousands of variations of ads. Often hyperbolic. Some targeted ads got the campaign accused of voter suppression, which Parscale denied, saying the controversial ads were no different than any other campaign.
“Did we do memes and things? Yeah, that’s part of a political campaign. You show the contrast between your candidate in the other camp candidate. There was no voter suppression in the campaign.”
However Parscale acknowledged that the Facebook ads — what one Hillary Clinton campaigner called Parscale’s dark arts skills — were nearly impossible to track.
“The media had no idea unless I told them,” he said.
The ads, memes and messaging were often ill-informed but also extremely clever. Parscale himself has been called that by area peers. He was viewed by several former employees as difficult but driven. The national narrative around the campaigns he ran and the presidency he unabashedly supports did not endear him to the country.
“I think I was called a racist, misogynistic anti-Semite. There was a few others mixed in there,” he said after the 2016 election.
It was the labels in the media that he said taught him the mainstream media was not his friend.
“I think I spent most of my time fighting the largest super PAC in the country, which was the mainstream media… the media bias was horrible through the campaign,” said Parscale.
The labels likely also endeared him even further to social media, where those kinds of things could be blocked, erased, and even directed back at their sources. The Trump campaign would later launch its own “news” service and programming via Facebook.
After the 2016 election, Parscale had soured on San Antonio. He often said the city soured on him. He was outspoken about the problems with the city’s airport. He designed the website for and personally backed former Mayor Ivy Taylor.
He moved to Fort Lauderdale, and started Parscale Strategies, which began taking in millions from the Trump campaign.
He sold his San Antonio interests to an obscure penny stock called Cloud Commerce.
Parscale reportedly grew very wealthy.
After being named campaign manager in 2018, Parscale began eagerly sopping up third party datasets, working with other organizations and consultants to again take Trump around media gatekeepers directly to their base.
“Now in 2020, they’ve evolved to be more nimble and more able to tie together these massive datasets with more individualized targeting,” said Samuel Woolley, director for the center for propaganda studies at the University of Texas.
In 2016, they went around traditional media gatekeepers with social media. In 2020, they wanted to go around the social media platforms that Parscale credited with helping them win the election.
The campaign has increasingly been at odds with these platforms. Twitter moved to label misleading content like the one the president recently tweeted about two toddlers who were friends.
The tweet layered ominous music over the CNN story with new fake graphics that said, “Racist baby probably Trump voter.”
“You have a lot of Trump surrogates, whether it’s pundits that are in support of Trump, or people that are current or former staffers that consistently share doctored videos,” said Woolley.
For all of his foibles the networks of data, the collaborations, and the digital trail that Parscale blazed for the president will be difficult to navigate for a successor.
“It’s almost hard for me to think of the Trump presidency without Brad Parscale at this stage because a huge amount of the strategy, the marketing strategy, both of the 2016 campaign, but also of what we’ve seen throughout the Trump presidency, and now what we’re seeing in 2020 has come from Parscale in some way,” said Woolley.
In all likelihood, he predicted, it would be untenable.
“I think the implications for the Trump team would be that the level of sophistication that they’ve been able to reach, albeit through third parties would probably, in some way go up in smoke,” he said.
A lot of that depends on his role now. Whether the campaign will still use his companies to push media is unclear. And whether his title as “Senior Advisor for Data and Digital” is ceremonial and face-saving or really has clout.
That said, it was the current campaign strategy that sees the president losing badly if the election were held today.