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How Trump found his 2020 campaign chief

Brad Parscale
 

 If Brad Parscale had not lost his job and gotten food poisoning in 2002, he might never have bought a how-to book on building websites or found time to read it and start his own web design and marketing firm. If his first client hadn’t been on the same flight, and sitting next to a top executive from the Trump Organization who was looking for a web designer, Parscale and Donald Trump may never have crossed paths.

Parscale’s story of how he went from a 20-something unemployed divorcee wondering how he was going to make his next child support payment to heading President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign is filled with chance happenings, coincidences and hard work.

Parscale likes to tell the story — and he had hoped to do so during his “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl. But Stahl wanted to talk about accusations that Parscale had used data from the controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 campaign and they never got around to Parscale’s story.

So Parscale took advantage of a friendly crowd with plenty of time and a good sense of humor at a May 30 fundraiser in Miami and went for it.

Born and raised in Topeka, Kan., Parscale got a scholarship to Trinity University in San Antonio, where he graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of science degree in finance. His father landed him a tech job in California.

Parscale got married, had a child and adopted another. Then, the dot-com bubble burst. He lost his job and his marriage ended in divorce. He moved back to San Antonio.

Having gotten turned down for every job he applied for, he went to a bookstore and asked the clerk what was the best-selling book in the business section. She told him it was a book on web design. He bought it.

“Being a good procrastinator, I didn’t read it,” Parscale said. “I turned on the TV, who knows what I was watching back then, something useless.”

Two weeks later Parscale got food poisoning.

“I read the book, I couldn’t leave my bed,” Parscale said. “I finished it and thought, I could do that.”

Parscale started his own business and for the next seven years he worked long days, drumming up business during the day and building websites at night. Then, early one morning, he got a call from a woman who wanted to talk about web design. Parscale said they talked for about an hour.

“She’s talking and talking and I’m ‘Yes ma’am.’ Yes ma’am,’” Parscale said. “Then she says thank you very much and hangs up.”

Six months later, he’s at an iHop eating a ham and cheese omelet “in one of those two-by-two booths that are kind of awkward with those little half walls” when he checks his messages. There is one from Kathy Kaye, executive director of sales and marketing at the Trump Organization. She asks Parscale to call her.

“I’m like, Trump? The guy from ‘The Apprentice’?” Parscale said. “I’m like, nah.”

He returns the call and Kaye, cheery, said she was expecting his call.

“You are?” Parscale asked.

“You remember me?” Parscale recalled Kay saying. “And I’m like, ‘No. Should I?’”

She reminded him of their phone call six months earlier.

“I was on this airplane with this guy and I was talking about how bad our web design was and that I needed to find someone smart to talk to about web design and he gave me your number and I called you,” Parscale recalled Kaye telling him.

“What?” Parscale said. Then, Kay asked him to hold on. Ivanka Trump just walked by and she wanted to bring her in on the call.

“I’m like, ‘That Trump girl?’” Parscale said. Then Parscale said Ivanka told him that she was in a board meeting with her father and brothers and Donald Jr. was telling them about what a great web designer Parscale was.

“You’ve got to understand,” Parscale said. “I’m living in an $80,000 house and driving a Dodge Dart.”

He was asked to submit a bid to redesign the Trump websites. Parscale said he discussed it with an associate and they had no idea what to charge.

So, they relied on strategies from the game show “The Price is Right” and came up with $10,000. Then they relied on the Two-Day Dating Rule — call too soon and you look overeager. Wait too long and you risk looking like you’re not really interested.

They submitted their bid two days later. A few days after that, Eric Trump called.

“Brad, we have a problem,” Parscale recalled Eric Trump saying. “We think you’re missing a zero and we don’t know if you’re just dumb or you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Gradually, over the next five years, Parscale took on more work with the Trump Organization. On Feb. 21, 2015, at 9:16 p.m. he got an email asking if he could build a presidential exploratory website. Trump was considering running for president. In June 2015, after Trump announced his candidacy, Parscale built Trump’s campaign website.

Parscale, who had no prior political or campaign experience, began working closely with Trump’s top aides Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon. Gradually, Parscale assumed more responsibility, content production, developing policy positions, managing the budget and digital advertising.

Then Trump won.

“Then I get a phone call to come to the Oval Office,” Parscale said. “I’m like, all right. I know something’s up. I go in and sit down.”

Vice President Mike Pence, then-Chief of Staff John Kelly, Hope Hicks and Jared Kushner were also there. They discussed the 2020 campaign and then the president popped the question.

“Brad, there is nobody better I can think of to run the 2020 campaign than you,” Parscale recalled Trump saying. “Would you like to do it? And I said yes.”

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