Government & Politics

Bob Dole campaign veterans are now key advisers to Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Michael Glassner (center), is one of several operatives in the campaign with ties to former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.
Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Michael Glassner (center), is one of several operatives in the campaign with ties to former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. The Associated Press

Few people have been closer to Bob Dole than Michael Glassner.

Glassner, 52, worked with the Kansas Republican over two decades — as senior adviser, confidant, even as Dole’s “body man,” the aide who stands behind a candidate during public appearances, offering information, ink pens, sympathy.

“I’ve been around as long as anybody in Dole world,” he told The Star.

Now Glassner stands with Donald Trump.

But he isn’t the only Dole veteran now sharing space with the flamboyant businessman and presumptive GOP presidential candidate. To an interesting and unusual degree, Dole veterans like Glassner are now scattered across the top of Trump’s organizational chart.

Their experiences flavor Trump’s strategy and message, and give the businessman a connection, however tenuous, to the establishment wing of the Republican Party. The Dole veterans also provide a potentially stabilizing link to the past — in a campaign remarkable for its spur-of-the-moment, Twitter-based approach to politics.

At the same time, some Republicans worry the problems that doomed Dole’s 1996 campaign — disorganization and a lack of message discipline — are now hurting Trump’s campaign as well.

Glassner, a native of Peabody, Kan., and a graduate of the University of Kansas, is Trump’s deputy campaign manager. By most accounts, he holds the third-most powerful position in the businessman’s unlikely White House crusade.

He spends his days in the eye of the Trump hurricane, a daily whirlwind of speeches, TV appearances, action and reaction.

“I’ve done this before,” he said from California, chuckling.

It’s the pinnacle of a career started in the 1970s in Kansas, when Glassner first volunteered to help Dole. He was 11 years old.

Glassner has a closer relationship with the longtime senator from Kansas than anyone else now helping Trump. But there are other connections:

▪ Paul Manafort, campaign chairman and chief Trump strategist, managed the Republican National Convention for presidential candidate Dole in 1996. Manafort was once a partner in a firm with Charles Black, a Republican consultant and one-time Dole adviser, and Roger Stone, who also worked for Dole.

Manafort is considered to be the top figure in Trump’s campaign cabinet. “He’s very capable, very bright,” said Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence and a senior staffer for Dole’s 1988 and 1996 presidential campaigns.

Manafort helped negotiate House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Trump endorsement Thursday, several news outlets have reported.

▪ Jim Murphy, a Dole senior adviser in 1988 and 1996, was hired over the weekend as Trump’s national political director.

▪ Tony Fabrizio runs polling for Trump’s campaign; he performed a similar task for Dole in 1996. Fabrizio and Manafort are friends, Politico reported.

▪ Alan Cobb, a veteran of several Kansas campaigns and once a Dole senate staff member, works on ballot access and political outreach for Trump. Cobb was once a lobbyist for Koch Industries in Kansas and was a leading figure with Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-related public interest group.

Cobb knew combative Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski through their shared work for Americans for Prosperity. Cobb was among the early members of Trump’s campaign team.

▪ Lew Eisenberg recently agreed to raise money for Trump in association with the Republican National Committee. Eisenberg raised money for Dole’s presidential campaign.

“These are strong, smart people who have built really good teams,” Cobb said.

There are other connections. Trump recently said federal Judge Raymond Gruender was on his list of potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gruender, of St. Louis, was Dole’s Missouri campaign director in 1996.

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The number of Dole associates in senior positions might be unremarkable in a regular presidential campaign, where hundreds of people work. But Trump’s campaign staff is unusually small, giving those in key spots even more clout.

Some Dole associates say the Dole-Trump links are a coincidence — an accident of GOP history. The consultants and advisers have all worked on other campaigns, they point out — Glassner was a key adviser to Sarah Palin, for example, while Manafort worked with Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and extensively in overseas elections.

Dole’s relationship isn’t the same with every former associate now on the Trump team. He’s much closer to Glassner than Manafort, for example, or Fabrizio.

But others said Dole’s outsized presence in Trump’s inner circle reflects an important reality: Few consultants who worked with other GOP presidential candidates want to be involved in Trump’s candidacy. In a campaign that needs at least some link with Republican leaders, the Dole connection has helped.

“People who worked for (Mitt) Romney weren’t inclined to work” (for Trump),” Glassner said. “People that had worked for Bush were not. You almost had to go back to the Dole ’96 campaign to find people who weren’t compromised by conflicts, or opposition to Trump.”

At the same time, Glassner said, his own work with Palin demonstrated his commitment to an outsider approach that Trump liked. Palin endorsed Trump in Iowa and has provided support for his campaign.

Glassner said he talked with Dole about endorsing Trump earlier this year. Dole is the only former GOP presidential candidate who has embraced the New York businessman.

The Kansas Republican declined, through a spokeswoman, to discuss that endorsement with The Star. Last week, though, he talked with CNN about the Trump campaign.

“When Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, it was an easy call for me,” he told the network. “What’s a lifelong Republican supposed to do, support the opponent? I don’t think so.”

Trump wasn’t Dole’s first choice for president, however. The former senator first endorsed Jeb Bush, then Marco Rubio. After those candidates slumped, Dole turned to Trump.

It isn’t clear if Dole’s support for Trump will move many voters in the fall. But Trump insiders believe the Dole campaign veterans bring needed expertise and experience to the effort.

Manafort, for example, managed the delegate selection process for Trump at a time when the campaign’s organizational skills seemed to be trailing those of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cobb was also involved in delegate selection — he came to Kansas, for example, when statewide delegates were chosen.

Those skills and others will be sorely tested in the months to come. There have been numerous reports of infighting within Trump’s inner circle, driven in part by the candidate’s unusual approach to message and media.

Manafort is believed to be feuding with Lewandowksi, for example. In a Fox News interview May 29, Lewandowski downplayed those reports.

“The media wants to perpetuate this story that there’s infighting amongst the campaign,” he said. “The bottom line is, we’re winning.”

The back-and-forth is familiar to veterans of Dole’s presidential campaigns. In an oral history interview, Lacy recalled that Dole’s 1996 campaign had “two camps” — and that he was eased out of the campaign following a clash with other members of the team.

Indeed, while Dole and Trump seem in some ways to be opposites — Dole was and is a political veteran, Trump has never run for office before — the two share an important trait: They sometimes ignore the mechanics of politics in favor of a deeper focus on what they want to say.

“They’re both very effective communicators, in their own ways,” Glassner said. “Neither of them are ‘managed’ or ‘handled.’ They do that themselves.”

Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign was notorious for its lack of organization at the end.

“Mr. Dole’s third run for the presidency was plagued by missteps, indecision and strategic blunders so fundamental that they bordered on amateurish,” a writer for The New York Times concluded that November.

“As the campaign progressed, on any given day,” the newspaper wrote, “no one in Mr. Dole’s camp could be quite certain what he might say.”

A similar lack of message discipline defines Trump’s campaign. He’s backtracked on criminal sanctions for women who get abortions, on membership in NATO and recently on nuclear weapons in Japan. He’s called for a ban of Muslims entering the U.S. and said a federal judge with “Mexican” heritage is biased because of Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the southern border.

He appeared to insult Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam-era prisoner of war. He’s sharply criticized other Republicans who have yet to embrace his candidacy. He says he is self-funding his campaign, yet recently began raising money from donors for the fall race.

Former Dole associates not connected with Trump’s campaign are watching to see if his rhetoric changes. Campaign veterans like Manafort and Glassner can help, they say, but only if Trump pays attention.

“It would certainly help if he had any intention of listening to them,” said Kim Wells, who served as a senior political adviser to Dole in 1988. “Which he apparently doesn’t.”

Yet others say Trump’s rhetoric is unlikely to change, in part because he’s won the nomination with it. The key to winning, they say, is to link their campaign experience with Trump’s unique approach.

“People who have been around politics understand the written and unwritten rules,” Cobb said. “But we’ve been able to adapt very easily and quickly to the unconventional candidate.”

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc