What’s weirder? That Trump would hand over his campaign to Manafort without vetting him and his vision for winning the race first? (Draw your own conclusion about Trump’s managerial ability from that.) Or that he’d punish Manafort this way amid a landslide win in New York last week and another round of landslides to come tonight? You don’t typically fire your manager when the team’s in the middle of a winning streak, right?
In fairness to Trump, it’s hard to understand why Manafort thought he could turn him into a more disciplined candidate. He’s an extreme narcissist; telling him to be something other than himself is the most vicious thing you can say to him. I don’t think his fans even want him to be more “presidential.” If you like Al Czervik, the last thing you’d want is for him to become Judge Smails. It reeks of “traditional” politics. The whole point of Trumpism is that it’s not politics as usual.
Trump became upset late last week when he learned from media reports that Manafort privately told Republican leaders that the billionaire reality TV star was “projecting an image” for voters and would begin toning down his rhetoric, according to the sources. They said that Trump also expressed concern about Manafort bringing several former lobbying colleagues into the campaign, as first reported by POLITICO…
In particular, multiple sources said Trump was bothered by news stories about Manafort’s representation of Saudi Arabia and for a group accused of being a front for Pakistani intelligence.
“I don’t think he was aware of the extent of the work that Paul has done in foreign countries that have not always been friendly to the United States,” said a Washington operative with close relationships to the campaign…
Multiple sources said that Trump in recent days has re-empowered Lewandowski to handle the campaign’s finances and make some hiring decisions, partially reversing changes Manafort laid out this month when seizing some decision-making authority from Lewandowski.
Trump reportedly didn’t like Manafort’s habit of keeping him off the Sunday shows (where he’d be more likely to be quizzed on policy) while choosing to appear on those shows himself. He also rejected a more “presidential” draft speech that Manafort wanted him to deliver last Tuesday night after his win in New York, although he did tone down his own rhetoric that evening before shifting back this week to talking about how disgusting Kasich is when he eats. A more substantive failing of Manafort’s was Team Trump getting lapped again in the delegate battle last weekend, but I think his excuse for that is sound: You can’t expect him to work miracles immediately when he’s been with the team just a few weeks and Trump is badly understaffed on the ground at state conventions. Manafort will become more useful in persuading delegates in May, June, and especially before the convention in July. But oh well — combative Corey Lewandowski, whose philosophy has always been to “let Trump be Trump,” is back in favor while Manafort, who’s been with the campaign less than a month, is now suddenly on the outs. It reminds me of George Steinbrenner hiring, firing, and re-hiring Billy Martin repeatedly in the 70s and 80s, overreacting to every setback despite the team’s overall success. Trump’s building himself his very own “Bronx Zoo.”
And the hallmark of the Bronx Zoo was plenty of backbiting. Twitchy notes that Lewandowski was eager this weekend for his Twitter followers to notice that Trump was mocking Manafort’s strategy:
In Waterbury, Donald J. Trump mocks going ‘presidential’ | The CT Mirror https://t.co/PANpBIQiBE
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) April 23, 2016
Meanwhile, here’s Manafort crony Roger Stone a day later:
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) April 24, 2016
No words can capture how bizarre it is that Roger Stone, of all people, is associated with the “more restraint” wing of Trump’s campaign. That’s how far out there Trump is.
But all of this is good news for #NeverTrumpers, no? It was Lewandowski’s strategy of letting Trump be Trump that drove his favorable rating down among the general electorate to 35/65 or whatever insane number it is now. Manafort’s “Smails, not Czervik” approach was an odd fit for Trump but it had a chance of improving his image. If Trump’s decided to let it rip the rest of the way, anti-Trumpers don’t need to worry much about him becoming president. And another nice development for #NeverTrumpers: So long as Lewandowski and Manafort are forced to co-exist within the campaign, we’re destined for a series of dishy leaks to outfits like Politico by their loyalists. Today’s piece was obviously driven by Team Corey, wanting to crow about Manafort’s fall from grace within the campaign. Pieces like this one, by contrast, are clearly the product of Team Paul. Unless super-managerial genius Donald Trump gets a handle on his inner circle, there’s every reason to expect this’ll continue until either Lewandowski or Manafort is let go. And the better Trump does in the primaries, the more likely it is that Manafort will get the axe. Lewandowski’s been there longer, and if Trump wins Indiana and looks poised to win big in California, he’ll be close enough to 1,237 that he may conclude he doesn’t need a “convention manager” anymore. He also surely prefers the yes-man Lewandowski to Manafort temperamentally. The guy palpably believes he’s going to win the general election with some virtuoso insult war against the Clintons amplified by $10 billion or whatever in free media coverage. Why would he want Manafort around harshing his vibe?
Exit question: Read this quote from an “operative close to the campaign.” Does it sound like a recipe for steady, thoughtful governance? “That’s Trump. If you try to force him into a box, he’s going to climb out of the box just to prove it to you. If you say he’s going to be more presidential, all you did is make him less presidential.”