From Cathedral of Learning to White House, Pitt Alum Hits Campaign Trail

Two men in suits sitting across a table from each otherNick Trainer may be traveling across the country now for his career in politics, but he still has his alma mater in mind. Trainer (A&S ’10) double-majored at the University of Pittsburgh in political science and history en route to his current role as director of battleground strategy for the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

“I’m still a season ticket holder for Pitt football games,” he said. “I like going back up there when I can.”

Trainer’s current role with the Trump campaign, which began in July, has him overseeing political strategy for battleground states—also known as swing states—which could be reasonably predicted to be won by either the Republican or Democratic Party. With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing direct, in-person encounters with voters, Trainer said his team has had to come up with creative ways to have the president speak to voters.

“When we first started social distancing in March, we moved our entire operation online in 24 hours and continued training volunteers and holding events that way. Since states started opening up again, we’ve gone back into the field with socially distanced events, but we’re still utilizing every avenue to connect directly voters. For instance, in July, we started holding tele-rallies in different states with the president and other campaign surrogates, and those have been really successful,” he said.

While at Pitt, Trainer was involved with the Student Government Board, where he had roles as governmental relations chair and was on the board’s public relations committee. He was also inducted into the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, where he later became chapter president, and was active in Pitt’s Interfraternity Council.

In an Introduction to Legislative Processes course, Trainer took part in a simulation of the U.S. House of Representatives, where students are assigned congressional districts. Here, they had to perform tasks that members of congress are expected to, including writing legislation and debating bills.

“Nick asked for—and got—an assignment to the most conservative district he could get. His Republicans were greatly outnumbered during the simulation, but I remember that year specifically because the Republicans were incredibly good at getting legislation passed even though they were a small minority,” said course instructor Kristin Kanthak, associate professor of political science at Pitt. “That was an especially fun year. Nick was obviously interested in Republican politics even then, but it is incredible how quickly he’s moved up in the party’s ranks.”

While studying at Pitt, Trainer also accepted an internship for the Republican National Committee’s Eisenhower Political Division, which spurred his interest in campaign politics.

“I really enjoyed the campaign environment, the idea that there’s a winner and a loser, and you fight every day to win,” he said.

After graduating in 2010, he moved to North Carolina where he became regional field director for the North Carolina Republican Party. The opportunity to come back to Pennsylvania appeared soon after however, and he became a Philadelphia field operative for the Pat Toomey for U.S. Senate campaign. After more campaign roles, Trainer found himself working directly for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania as deputy victory director, then deputy director of field operations and finally statewide field director.

“I always had interests in politics and history, especially how our country came together and how it’s held together,” he said.

He says students should “find something meaningful, that you don’t get bored doing—and once you find it, throw yourself at it at full speed.”