It’s Paul Manafort, who’s now in charge of Trump’s new D.C. office and has taken over the all-important task of wrangling delegates for Trump at state conventions. If you don’t know why him reporting directly to Trump rather than to Lewandowski is significant, read this post for a primer on the power struggle behind the scenes. If you believe Politico, Lewandowski was so eager to defend his turf from Manafort that he fired Trump’s chief organizer in Colorado for defying his orders not to speak to Manafort. One thing I didn’t realize when I wrote that post: Not only are Manafort and Roger Stone pals, they were actually partners at their own lobbying firm for years. Given Stone’s tensions with Lewandowski, having his buddy installed as Trump’s new point man on a contested convention is a major victory for him in the battle for control of the campaign.
The meeting at which Manafort was assigned his new duties was, go figure, contentious.
The expansion was announced a day after a lengthy and, at times, tense meeting that included Mr. Trump, Mr. Manafort and the campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who has been the focus of intense scrutiny after Mr. Trump’s lopsided loss in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, difficulty recruiting allies for some state conventions and Mr. Lewandowski’s recent arrest on battery charges…
The private meeting with Mr. Lewandowski, Mr. Trump and the media-averse Mr. Manafort, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, was described as “slightly contentious” by someone briefed on the gathering who was not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Manafort urged Mr. Trump to focus on immediate tasks and to retool his approach, another person briefed on the meeting said Within hours, Mr. Trump scrapped a Friday trip to California, which will not vote until June…
Mr. Lewandowski and Michael Glassner, the deputy campaign manager, have been described by people in the campaign as viewing Mr. Manafort, who is working on a volunteer basis, as a threat.
Can Manafort even the playing field with Cruz in the fight for delegates? He’s well regarded but the infrastructure he needs at the state level won’t happen overnight. Three more pro-Cruz delegates were elected in Colorado yesterday with only token, and sometimes weird, opposition from Team Trump:
Addressing the audience, Trump’s new Colorado state director Patrick Davis told supporters to vote for the three pro-Trump delegate candidates on a glossy brochure the campaign distributed…
There was only one problem: Two of the three names weren’t listed on the ballot…
There were, however, three pro-Trump delegates on the ballot who weren’t sanctioned by the campaign. One of them, Cully Marshall, made his case for Trump in a poem.
“He’s our only hope against Hillary, that lying crooked witch,” Marshall said. “He’s going to build that wall and make Hillary El Chapo’s personal…” He trailed off.
Trump has all but given up on the state, canceling a weekend appearance there even though two dozen or so more delegates are yet to be chosen. And the organizational problems aren’t limited to Colorado. Yeesh:
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) April 8, 2016
Manafort will need to make future delegate elections more competitive and figure out a way to woo currently unbound delegates to support Trump instead of Cruz. Not all of those unbound delegates are party officials but many are, and Cruz probably has an advantage with them since most will be closer to him ideologically than they will be to Trump. They’ll also prefer Cruz as somewhat more electable than Trump this fall, which is important for congressional races. What’s Manafort prepared to offer them? A photo with Trump giving the thumbs-up won’t do it. I think.
One other problem, although this is more of a concern for Trump and Lewandowski: Go look at Nate Silver’s graphs of Trump’s vote share state by state so far versus the vote share he’s needed to win each one. Anti-Trump votes are consolidating against him, usually but not always in favor of Cruz, which means a higher bar to victory for a guy whose numbers haven’t grown much since the start of the race. The more he struggles on election nights, the more delegates Manafort will need to win for him behind the scenes in order to get him to 1,237. New York will help, but read what Silver says about California. That’s the state that could make or break Trump and Cruz is already within single digits of the lead with two months to go and anti-Trumpers uniting behind him in other states.
Update: A mid-afternoon Friday update from the Denver Post:
— John Frank (@ByJohnFrank) April 8, 2016