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As contested convention looms, Trump to hire ‘seasoned operatives’ to help

As the GOP scrambles to minimize Donald Trump's dominance in the polls, Republican leaders face the question of what would happen if no clear winner emerges. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: SAUL LOEB/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump’s campaign will soon announce the hiring of several “seasoned operatives” and “well-known, established names” to help the Republican front-runner quickly grow his operation and prepare for a likely contested convention, his campaign manager said Wednesday.

The burst of new hires will have to navigate a political organization unlike that of any modern major presidential candidate, where loyalty is valued above all else and advisers seldom challenge Trump’s vision. Over the past two months, Trump has been growing his campaign staff to deal with a series of unforeseen or underestimated problems, including the need to better monitor delegates to avoid losing more to his chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.).

A larger staff could limit Trump’s ability to micromanage his campaign, a practice that has proved to be both a benefit and a drawback. An expansion also shifts at least some power away from Trump’s tiny circle of dedicated top aides, most of whom travel nearly everywhere with him: campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, deputy campaign manager Michael Glassner, press secretary Hope Hicks and social media director Daniel Scavino.

Coming off Tuesday’s loss to Cruz in the Wisconsin primary, preparing for the convention and protecting Trump’s delegate count have become some of the campaign’s most urgent priorities. Top aides have assigned several staff members to the cause, and new delegate wrangler Paul Manafort met with his team in New York on Wednesday along with Lewandowski and Glassner.

“The circle is getting wider and wider,” said Barry Bennett, who was former Republican candidate Ben Carson’s campaign manager and is now a senior adviser to Trump. “Corey’s in charge, but we all have access, and we all have our marching orders.”

Who is former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski?

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, walks with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after speaking at a news conference in Dubuque, Iowa. Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields, who said that she was grabbed by Lewandowski as she attempted to question Trump in Florida on Tuesday, March 8, has resigned from the conservative website, saying that she can't work for an organization that doesn't support her. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Trump shows new vulnerabilities — and has only himself to blame

Some of Trump’s most influential advisers are not on the payroll. Trump regularly consults with his adult children, especially Ivanka Trump, and his ex-wife Ivana Trump. He refers to his current wife, Melania, as his chief pollster and has praised her ability to monitor the temperature of the country. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, wrote Trump’s policy speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the help of the editor of the newspaper he owns, the New York Observer. (The paper has since said that its editorial staff will no longer assist the candidate.)

And buzzing around the campaign is former staffer and ongoing informal adviser Roger Stone, a political operative who has long clashed with Lewandowski. Manafort, who is the latest top addition to the campaign staff, is a longtime Stone ally who is known for managing the 1976 contested convention for Gerald Ford. Manafort also has an apartment at Trump Tower in Manhattan and, over the years, has run into Trump in the elevator and lobby.

In the past month, Trump has found himself even closer to the nomination and under even greater scrutiny, with missteps and gaffes seeming to hurt his candidacy more than before. The campaign announced this week that Trump will soon give a series of policy-focused speeches and will release documentation of his positions on key issues, staples of typical presidential campaigns that he has previously ignored.

Trump sometimes seems ill-prepared for the dozens of interviews he does, despite monitoring the news himself. He has claimed to have not known that asking his followers to pledge their support to him with raised right hands had been compared to a Nazi salute or that one of his chief surrogates — an evangelical pastor from South Carolina — said at a rally that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, needs to “come to Jesus.” Recent interviews with the Washington Post Editorial Board and the New York Times also have exposed large gaps in Trump’s knowledge of foreign affairs. And last week, Trump stumbled through a series of questions about his abortion-related positions.

Who is Corey Lewandowski? His rise — and relationship with Donald Trump

William J. Bennett, who served as one of Ronald Reagan’s education secretaries and has informally advised Trump on policy, said he has found his conversations with the campaign wanting.

“I’m pounding my desk saying, ‘Get up on the issues!’ And I and others have offered to help, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference,” Bennett said. “I had one call with him, one call with a very senior adviser, but there’s more he could be doing.”

Republican consultant Edward J. Rollins said Lewandowski’s challenge will be to expand the campaign’s circle and make peace with party figures rather than antagonize them. Lewandowski’s penchant for traveling with Trump, he said, is another aspect of Trump’s approach that may need calibration.

“A campaign manager’s role is the big picture, to plan out the strategy and execute it and watch everything that’s happening, not just being by the candidate’s side,” Rollins said.

But Trump is Trump, and longtime staffers have said they do not want to stifle their boss’s priorities and authenticity, which has been a key to his success — even as concerned outsiders warn that his style could lose him the election. Trump will frequently respond to news or attacks within minutes, and there appears to be no formal vetting process for the stances he decides to take.

“At the end of the day, people are voting for Mr. Trump because they believe in what he’s saying and support what he’s been saying, and we would never do anything to try and limit his ability to speak directly to the voters,” said Lewandowski, who has denied reports of tension between longer-term staffers such as him and newcomers.

A reminder of the singular nature of the operation came Tuesday night, after Trump lost the Wisconsin primary. Although the state’s delegate count is relatively small, the contest is the only Republican primary during a three-week stretch, and the defeat dampened morale. The campaign released a lengthy and typically Trumpian statement.

“Lyin’ Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him,” read a statement that went on to accuse Cruz of illegally coordinating with a super PAC and included several grammatical errors. “Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet — he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump.”

Trump monitored the results at home and quickly shifted his focus to the April 19 primary in his home state of New York, which he has long been determined to win. A Monmouth poll released Wednesday had him at 52 percent, trailed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 25 percent and Cruz in third at 17 percent.

Robert Costa contributed to this report.