Jason Andrew for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — On a former trading floor in an office tower in Rosslyn, Va., with sweeping views of the Potomac River, the Trump 2020 campaign is settling in. It has about 40 staff members and counting, reported $19.2 million in cash on hand in its last report and has spent $4.5 million on online ads since December.
It is a long way from Mr. Trump’s first presidential race, which came together in the summer of 2015 and was run as a taped-together operation, with a few desks strewn across an unfinished floor of Trump Tower.
But one thing is missing from the high-powered but traditional campaign operation underway in Rosslyn: a candidate who abides by tradition.
In a speech to a conservative group this month, as Mr. Trump described what he had in mind, he made a point of recounting “how I got elected, by being off script,” adding, “If we don’t go off script, our country is in big trouble, folks.” And at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, Mr. Trump illustrated what he meant, delivering an 80-minute stemwinder in which he lashed out at familiar targets who fostered “the collusion delusion” and offered the in-depth rehash of his 2016 victory that is a staple of his rally speeches.
“We won a lot,” he said, after explaining where “Crooked” Hillary Clinton went wrong. “We won 306 to 223.” (Mrs. Clinton’s total was actually 232.)
Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to run on the same anti-immigration, anti-Islam, fear-mongering tropes that lifted him to victory in 2016, denouncing old enemies like Mrs. Clinton and adding new ones, even as his aides try to emphasize his accomplishments in office like the economy and the rout of the Islamic State. Advisers say privately that he has been distracted by the Mueller report, which he regards as a clear political victory, and has not focused on message for the coming months.
As the campaign tries to build a traditional re-election operation, which officials often compare to President George W. Bush’s 2004 race, the tension may build between campaign officials and Mr. Trump, who trusts his gut above all else.
“President Trump has always had his finger on the pulse of the nation and he understands what it is that the American people want, and that is why he won in 2016 and that has not changed,” said David Bossie, a former campaign adviser who, alongside the former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, attended the rally with Mr. Trump on Thursday night. “He is his best political barometer.”
Incumbent presidents running for re-election always come with built-in advantages: money, time, the stature of the office and the opportunity to define the terms of the race, while an inchoate field of opponents fight among one another.
The Trump campaign is building an organization aimed at capitalizing on all of those advantages, crafting a conventional structure around a candidate whose nature is to buck against it. “There are lots of differences between being part of a bruising primary versus being the incumbent,” said Tim Murtaugh, the campaign communications director. “One of the differences is time. We have a big advantage on the Democrat field in that, and we intend to use it.”
But the wild card is Mr. Trump himself.
“It’s easy to build a beautiful operation,” said Robby…