Team of Vipers
Cliff Sims
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 3

The real challenges for Sims begin in this chapter. He recounts that, “The morning after the Access Hollywood tape was released, a Saturday, the core of our communications team came to work early. When I arrived at the Tower, Cheung, Surabian, Kaelan, and Jason Miller were already there. But we quickly realized there were many others we would no longer be able to rely on—like, nearly the entire GOP establishment, which Trump would never forget.” While working through these challenges can be burdensome, it becomes much worse if there is no trust among the people with whom one is supposed to work alongside. After the release of the tape, there was mass confusion over whether Trump needed to stand-down or face the challenges to come. Reince Priebus, the RNC Chairman, urged Trump to drop out of the race, telling him that, “You have two choices. You either drop out right now, or you lose by the biggest landslide in American political history.” While these must have been very difficult times for everyone on the campaign team, there was a clear goal in the minds of the individuals — and they were determined to achieve them.

After Trump had decided that he was going to run, the ground was laid for his charged and fierce battle against Hillary Clinton. As the presidential debates approached, Sims indicates the extent to which the Trump team was prepared for the battle. All the relevant technological apparatuses were already in place, yet the Clinton camp seemed less prepared. Sims says that, “As we spotted each of them—the Clinton campaign had nothing like this anywhere—our comms team watched and laughed together from a makeshift war room just down the hall from the debate stage. “Well, no matter what happens tonight, at least that was fun”, I said, reclining onto the back two legs of my chair and taking a sip from a can of Sprite.” From this statement, it is evident that Trump had done all he could to make sure his campaign team was adequately planned, resourced and managed. Sims appreciates how the Trump campaign was properly oiled, and the people who were running the campaign had what it takes to make the system successful.

Sims mentions the level of coordination and election management which was put into the Trump election team, and which had an incredible impact on the outcome of the election. The team’s clear chain of command and positive performance go hand-in-hand, all thanks to the massive level of consultation in the team that led to the realization of such results: “As we walked the roughly twenty yards back to the makeshift war room at the debate hall, Jason Miller stopped several of us from the comms team and said he had something important to tell us confidentially. The look on his face suggested he wasn’t joking around, so we leaned in.” Sims further shared that he worked within a team where the obsession to achieve results was stronger than the obsession to show how much power one wielded in the presidential campaign. Most importantly, Trump left his campaign in the hands of experts, which was critical in ensuring that the professionals made decisions which served the best interests of their presidential campaign.

Sims has also described the extent to which the Trump campaign team was determined to use all strategies to win the elections. One particular strategy the team wanted to use was the discrediting of Hillary Clinton. For instance, the Trump campaign team made sure to remind Americans about the alleged failures or misdeeds of President Bill Clinton. Although he was not in the presidential race, mentioning the mistakes he made when he served as one was likely to have a bearing on the choices of Americans. Sims mentions that, “When Bill Clinton walked into the debate hall for the first time that evening, he saw his accusers almost immediately. It was impossible to avoid them. Bannon had made sure of that. I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a man look that shaken. Of all the things he’d seen and done as president—launched covert military action, endured relentless investigations, suffered through an impeachment.”


This chapter gives a brief explanation of some of the intrigues which characterized the election strategies of the Trump election team, specifically with how it was efficiently managed and resourced. The superior chain of command and decision-making strategies ensured an important role in Trump’s ultimate success. Additionally, this chapter gives a bleak view of how the act of political communication is conducted, specifically by gearing towards getting the best for the candidates. One of the ways to achieve this is to effectively exploit the weaknesses of its rivals. Trump eventually won the elections because of his team’s efforts, and not because of his abilities.

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