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Former Trump Adviser Gives Closer Look At A Non-Traditional Campaign


Just how different is Donald Trump's presidential campaign from other presidential campaigns? We all know about the emphasis on big rallies, social media, phone-in interviews on TV news shows. We know about Trump's distinguishing policy positions. But what about inside the campaign? It's been described as short on staff, rife with internal drama and a total departure from traditional strategy. Well, joining us now is Barry Bennett. He's a former adviser to Trump, and before that was Ben Carson's campaign manager. Welcome to the program.

BARRY BENNETT: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: You're a former adviser to Donald Trump, but still a supporter of the Trump campaign.


SIEGEL: If we walked into Trump campaign headquarters - I mean, would it look the same as any other national presidential campaign headquarters, or is it a different scene?

BENNETT: It's a different scene. It's a bunch of kids working on boxes and sawhorses. And it's pretty ugly. You know, it's a raw space in the Trump Tower. And there are very few doors and walls.

SIEGEL: You were quoted a few days ago as saying that you wouldn't call the Trump campaign a well-oiled machine right now. What kind of machine is it?

BENNETT: Well, I mean, so far it's been a pretty successful machine. I mean, we keep reading about he's having the worst week or the worst month ever. Yet he still continues to hang in there, inside the margin of error in the polling. So it's kind of an interesting time.

SIEGEL: But see, in terms of plotting the campaign's message for a given day and who should deliver the message, the Trump campaign does it differently than other campaigns?

BENNETT: Yeah. I mean, he's acting as the communications director. He's deciding all that himself.

SIEGEL: The candidate.

BENNETT: The candidate. Which is, you know - usually the candidate reads from a white piece of paper at the podium that's put there right before he goes on stage by someone who has the speech box where the paper is included. But no, it's all off the top of his head.

SIEGEL: I can imagine some old campaign hand adapting that old saying about the doctor who has himself for a patient. I mean, the candidate who has himself for a communications director may have a fool for a candidate.

BENNETT: Well, that's certainly been our practicing theorem for the last 40 years. But I think the one thing that Donald Trump has that is totally underestimated is that he really does have a very, very good political ear. And it's to people that people don't think that he knows how to listen to. But if you look at - you know, like, Youngstown, Ohio is a great example. I mean, in January, in Youngstown, Ohio, there were only 16,000 registered Republicans. And today, there are 38,000. And he's speaking to them in a way that they really are responding to.

SIEGEL: What about other aspects of, you know, what had been modern political campaigning - microtargeting specific groups, a get-out-the-vote operation, having staff out there? You think it's all going to be proven to be obsolescent in this cycle?

BENNETT: No. No, I think that, you know, what we used to call microtargeting - I guess what we have now must be nanotargeting because we've gotten so much better at it. And we now have personality scores on the voter file. I - not only can I tell if you love or hate guns, but I can tell you what emotional response I can elicit from different kinds of messages.

SIEGEL: This is all to decide whether I'm worth working on to get me to the polls...


SIEGEL: ...Or calling up again.

BENNETT: Whether I want you to vote - go vote or whether I think you're a lost cause. So - I mean, all that has really, really progressed. But I can now target you through Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or even Snapchat because we know a lot more about you. I mean, we used to be very proud that we had, like, 50 sets of data points on you. Now we have 8,000, 9,000, 10,000. And, you know, we can go through every tweet you've ever made and append that to the voter file.

SIEGEL: So you're saying it's not that the Trump campaign is the worst modern presidential campaign. You're saying it's the first post-modern presidential campaign.

BENNETT: Yeah. I think part of it is it does - certainly doesn't look like anything we've ever seen before. But that's because it shouldn't. Things have changed dramatically. Now, you know, are they running on all eight cylinders? No. You know, maybe three or four. But that means they have potential to do so much better. And I hope they do.

SIEGEL: Barry Bennett, former adviser, still-supporter of Donald Trump. Thanks for talking with us today.

BENNETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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