MEDINA, Ohio — Brad Parscale wasn’t at the Thirsty Cowboy to party.
Donald Trump’s ex-campaign manager was at the bar Saturday on business — and his business was Jim Renacci, a former GOP congressman running to unseat Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, in 2022.
This second act for Parscale, who is credited with building Trump’s digital operation in 2016 before a messy downfall, is playing out here, in the Ohio suburbs, with a wealthy long shot candidate at a strip-mall bar.
“Other than Trump, this is the only race where I’ve been involved in the day-to-day operations,” Parscale told HuffPost during a local GOP gathering that featured far-right provocateur Scott Presler.
Standing at 6 feet, 8 inches and wearing blue ostrich skin cowboy boots, Parscale can’t help but stick out in a crowd. But he’s more than happy to pose for a selfie or gush about Trump, who won Ohio twice and whom many people at these events hope to see in the White House again.
“We need people like Trump in 2024,” said Renacci, a candidate trying to siphon GOP support away from DeWine over backlash to COVID-19 safety measures. “We need people who are disruptors who are going to change lanes.”
Parscale, after relaunching his political consulting firm and trying to get a new political data business off the ground, is seemingly all in on Renacci, who lost a Senate battle against Democrat Sherrod Brown in 2018. Parscale said he’s renting a house in northeast Ohio, not far from Renacci.
Renacci’s most recent campaign finance disclosure doesn’t say how much he’s paying Parscale, but he’s got money to burn: Renacci was previously ranked as one of the wealthiest House members in 2017 by OpenSecrets, a bipartisan nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics.
“I’m from the Midwest. Kansas. It’s nice up here, I like it,” said Parscale, who wore jeans and a gray T-shirt to a bar that claims to have the area’s only mechanical bull. “It’s also a good opportunity to really test the [political data] software I’ve been developing — Nucleus — for the last six years.”
At an event where the local GOP was giving out “Trump 2024” tees like candy, Parscale had nothing but praise for his former boss, who demoted him from campaign manager in July 2020 after a disastrous rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the meager attendance reportedly enraged Trump.
Parscale ultimately left the campaign less than two months before the presidential election, shortly after his wife had called the police to their Florida home saying he was behaving erratically. Candice Parscale told police that her husband had waved a gun at her and threatened to hurt himself. She also said he’d been violent toward her in the weeks prior, although she later walked back that allegation.
Before he was ousted, the campaign operation under Parscale was criticized for blowing money on luxury cars and a $10 million Super Bowl ad. His firms have also profited directly — to the tune of $39 million since 2017, according to the Associated Press.
“Like I always said, there’s only one person with a higher name ID than Trump — Jesus.”
But at least publicly, Parscale seems to bear no ill will toward his ex-boss.
“He’s still beloved,” Parscale said. “He will be a key figure in Republican politics for decades to come, just like Reagan still is. He will be the leader until there’s another one, and it might never be enough. He’s the phenomenon of phenomenons. Like I always said, there’s only one person with a higher name ID than Trump — Jesus.”
Maureen Collins, a volunteer political activist at the GOP gathering, said she would “absolutely” vote for Trump again, and questioned whether President Joe Biden was legitimately elected (despite zero evidence that he wasn’t).
“[Trump] had tens of thousands of people at his rallies. There was one rally that Kamala Harris and Joe Biden did in Arizona before the election — nobody came!” Collins said, referring to drive-in rallies that were kept small during the pandemic. “You mean to tell me this man, who draws tens of thousands of cheering people who love him, was defeated by that moron? That did not happen.”
Parscale isn’t the only figure from Trump’s orbit who’s been hired by candidates hoping to replicate his appeal with the GOP base — or score an endorsement meeting at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Kimberly Guilfoyle, an ex-Trump campaign official and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, is the national chair of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ 2022 Senate campaign. Kellyanne Conway, who was also a campaign manager for Trump, is now a senior adviser to Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno.
It’s not clear that Trump’s endorsement is any more likely for these candidates — including Renacci, whom Trump backed in 2018 after he left the gubernatorial race for a Senate bid. Trump has yet to make endorsements for any of these 2022 contests.
Before setting up camp in Ohio, Parscale spent time in California with Republican Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympian-turned-reality TV star who ran in the election to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Despite her name ID — and assistance from Parscale — Jenner won just 1% of the vote. And Trump ended up staying out of that race, which GOP front-runner Larry Elder ultimately lost.
“Caitlyn for California” paid Parscale’s political consulting firm $67,000 for its services, according to its July finance disclosure, including an $1,800 dinner at celebrity hot spot Nobu.
“I was out there for a month and a half. I helped her hire people. She was a friend of mine,” said Parscale, who first met Jenner at a Starbucks in Lisbon, Portugal. “I think it’s good to increase the size of the tent. I think we truly believe in personal freedom as the Republican Party, and we should believe in people’s freedom of choice.”
“And, you know, you can judge that for what it is — I still think it was a great thing for her to run as the first transgender Republican,” he added.
As for Trump’s plans in 2024, Parscale doesn’t have any special insight.
“He decides,” Parscale said. “I’ve already said it publicly several times — I’ve tweeted it — I don’t see how he doesn’t run.”
Tom Weyand, a media consultant who works with Renacci, summed up what’s on the GOP’s agenda for the next few election cycles.
“Today, we’re going to take back Ohio in the form of our school board and city council seats, and hopefully get President Trump to come back in 2024,” Weyand said.