The Man Behind Trump's Facebook Juggernaut - 2020-03-02
In September, at a resort hotel in the Coachella Valley, the California Republican Party held its fall convention. Brad Parscale—forty-four, six feet eight, balding, prolifically bearded—walked onstage in shirtsleeves and tilted the microphone upward, mumbling a self-deprecating joke about being "awkwardly tall." Parscale has lived in a red county in California and a blue county in Texas, and he now splits his time between Washington, D.C., and two luxury properties in South Florida, yet he still speaks with the neutral accent of Topeka, Kansas, where he grew up. He was one of the top staffers on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. "I was the digital-media director," he said. "So, yes, all that crazy Facebook stuff was my idea." Other former Trump-campaign officials fill their calendars with paid speaking gigs, padding their remarks with jingoistic platitudes or rapturous accounts of Trump's improbable victory. Parscale appears in public less often. When he does, he gets to the point.
"We have turned the R.N.C. into one of the largest data-gathering operations in United States history," he said. He was referring to the Republican National Committee, which has raised two hundred and sixty-three million dollars for the 2020 elections. (The Democratic National Committee has raised just over a hundred million.) As Parscale explained, the Trump campaign has been operating more or less full time since 2016, continually improving its "technology and data operations." During this period, the campaign and the R.N.C. have essentially merged, sharing staff, voter data, and other resources. The Democrats do not yet have a nominee for President, and some of their systems for acquiring and sharing data are considered outdated by comparison. "You cannot just build an app, or build out data, in the few months you have from the Convention," Parscale said. "The Democrats will have that problem this time. As they all interfight, we are building for our future." Two years ago, Parscale was named the manager of Trump's 2020 campaign. "I know everybody wants me to do it from my laptop," he joked to the audience. "Not possible. I've already done that once."
Before Parscale worked for the campaign, he was a digital marketer in San Antonio with no political experience. Referring to his work for Trump in 2016, he has said, "I was thrown into the Super Bowl, never played a game, and won." But it might be more apt to compare Parscale to the technicians who operated Watson, the I.B.M. supercomputer, while it successfully competed against two humans on "Jeopardy!" Machine learning and social-media algorithms are upending most aspects of contemporary life, including politics. One of Parscale's advantages was that he recognized this fact and didn't hesitate to make full use of it.