Well, Republicans wanted Donald Trump’s campaign to act more professional. Who better to manage that than … professionals? Politico’s Ken Vogel reported last night that the shift from Corey Lewandowski to Paul Manafort has changed more than just personnel — it has brought the Trump campaign under control of lobbyists, an industry Trump explicitly derided earlier in the primary cycle:
Among the influence industry veterans who have been helping the campaign in recent weeks, according to sources close to the Trump campaign, are Laurance Gay, who had worked with Manafort on an effort to obtain a federal grant that one congressman called a “very smelly, sleazy business,” and Doug Davenport, whose firm’s lobbying for an oppressive Southeast Asian regime became a liability for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The pair join another former Manafort lobbying partner named Rick Gates, who was identified as an agent of a Ukrainian oligarch in a 2011 racketeering lawsuit that also named Manafort. And Manafort this week met with Marc Palazzo, a former lobbyist for a Koch Industries subsidiary who used to work as a communications staffer for GTECH Corporation, the controversial lottery operator, to which Gay, Davenport, Gates and Manafort all have ties. …
Manafort has made a decades-long career drifting between GOP presidential politics and lucrative lobbying and consulting work. The firm he helped found developed a niche representing a roster of controversial international clients that has been described as “the torturers’ lobby.” Clients included Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Angolan guerrilla Jonas Savimbi, a group accused of being a front for Pakistani intelligence, and — most recently — ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. In fact, the last time Manafort was intricately involved in a presidential campaign was Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1996 bid, and he has been largely absent from GOP politics and Washington for years.
Not surprisingly, the complaints about this shift are loudest from the Lewandowski faction:
Manafort’s recent additions to the Trump campaign have prompted incredulous reactions among Lewandowski’s loyalists on the campaign, who have privately questioned whether Manafort understands modern presidential politics, said one operative who works with the Trump campaign.
“They said that they were going to bring in a new campaign team, but Manafort has been out of the game for so long,” said the operative. “He doesn’t have any current connections, so he’s just bringing in all his old lobbyist friends.”
The question is just how entrenched the lobbyists are in the campaign. Vogel notes that it’s not clear whether they’re volunteering, or being paid as consultants and/or employees of the campaign. Their proximity does seem in conflict with Trump’s claim last year that “I don’t want lobbyists,” as well as the supposed raison d’être of voting for Trump — that he couldn’t be bought by lobbyists and special interests. If these are just informal advisers, then perhaps it’s not a big issue — but Trump put Manafort in charge himself, so it’s not nothing, either.
Still, let’s not forget that Barack Obama made a similar pledge in 2007-8, managed to keep it through the election, but then populated his administration with so many lobbyists that Jake Tapper wondered aloud how many waivers the White House had drawn up. Obama’s supporters largely didn’t care about who Obama hired — they cared about the man doing the hiring. It’s not as if Trump’s competitors will have a purity he lacks on this point from which to attack this change of direction, either, although they’ll probably try nonetheless. Both Trump and Obama understood that voters wanted to have their distaste for lobbyists validated by relative outsiders, and that validation created emotional connections to the candidates. Obama won a second term anyway, thanks mostly to those emotional connections to the 2008 vote and the failures of the Mitt Romney campaign, as I describe in my new book Going Red. The lobbyist issue wasn’t a factor.
Obama, however, managed to put off the inevitable until after he’d sewn up the nomination and the election. Trump, faced with the danger Cruz posed on ground organization and delegate selection, had to bring in the professionals much earlier. Will that make a difference to voters in upcoming states? Recent history suggests that it won’t disturb the emotional connections already built by a candidate, but the depth of that connection depends in large part on the organization that Trump’s campaign has largely lacked — and the primaries will soon turn to the Midwest and West for the most part, where Trump’s traction has been weaker. If there’s any risk, we’ll see its effects in May and June, but don’t bet on this being a big factor until the convention — assuming Ted Cruz can keep Trump from winning on the first ballot.