Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination Thursday when a ragtag group of unbound delegates announced they were going to support him. All the networks ran with breaking news and trained their cameras on an empty podium for hours waiting for Trump to appear before the press and bak in his glory. It was a magical moment. True, everyone had known for weeks now that Trump was going to be the nominee since all of his rivals have dropped out of the race but why let that stand in the way of an opportunity to obsess over his every incoherent insult and rant? As they waited, the big topic of conversation among the TV chatterers was an interview by Howard Fineman with Trump's campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort. And it was admittedly a doozy.
When I wrote about Manafort earlier I concentrated on his long history of working with slash and burn political consultants and foreign tyrants. He is uniquely qualified to head up Trump's operation. But it's been a while since he's been involved in American politics and it was unclear if he had lost his touch. The interview with Fineman raises more questions about that than it answers.
Fineman quotes Manafort saying that he thinks this election will be a cakewalk:
. This is not a hard race.”
That's the kind of confidence one would expect of a Trump adviser. But it's a little bit weird considering he also says "you don’t change Donald Trump. You don’t ‘manage’ him." That sounds like a contradiction in terms — if they can't "manage" Trump then it's hard to see how this race isn't going to be a challenge since the man is a walking time bomb.
Manafort made some policy news by saying that Trump was likely going to "soften" his policy on banning Muslims explaining that this was just a negotiating stance. The truth is that Trump himself has said that before. But at this point, he has been on so many sides of every issue nobody can keep track so it means something when his chief strategist validates one of them.
It's also the case that if there's one issue which the GOP establishment particularly wants Trump to back away from it's the Muslim ban. There are good reasons for this, of course. It's UnAmerican for one thing although that would not normally bother Republican officials. More likely it's that they actually recognize that Trump's idiotic, unworkable proposal is so inflammatory that it's going to get people killed. Unfortunately, once they are back home campaigning they're going to hear from their Trump-loving constituents that this is one of their favorite policies. If these officials have any integrity, which is unlikely, they will try to educate their voters about how dangerous it is but I wouldn't hold my breath.
According to Manafort, Trump's other big crowd pleaser, "the wall", will be built come what may and he will not "soften" his stance on immigration. He was spinning like a top — or he really is out of touch — because he told Fineman that it's only in places like New York and California where the American Latinos are all radicals who care about such things. In Ohio and Florida they'll be happy to vote for Trump.
That is delusional. According to recent national polling by Latino decisions, he has an 87% unfavorable rating. In Florida, he does better than he does nationally. Only 84% of Latinos view him unfavorably. In Nevada, a state which he dishonestly claims voted for him in huge numbers in the primary and uses a proof of his tremendous appeal among Latinos, he also has an 87% unfavorable rating. Manafort thinks they will be able to turn that round by talking to them about jobs, national security, terrorism and education because their concerns are the same as white families. Of course white families aren't concerned about having their friends and relatives rounded up and dumped in the Sonoran desert which Trump has indicated he thinks is a terrific idea. Latinos are certainly concerned about terrorism. But they may define it just a little bit differently than Trump does.
Manafort said that Trump was unlikely to choose a woman or a racial or ethnic minority for VP because that would be "pandering." That would be very wrong, needless to say. Unlike Trump tweeting out a picture of himself eating a "taco bowl" from the Trump Tower grill on Cinco de Mayo saying he "loves Hispanics".
But then the job of Vice President is going to be very, very important in a Trump administration according to Manafort, so they aren't going to take any chances:
He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”
I guess nobody's told Trump that you don't get to write the job description yourself. I'm pretty sure the job of president is to be the one who makes all the big decisions. It's not the person who just calls Fox and Friends, negotiates the trade deals and bombs the shit out of ISIS. You don't get to pick what presidential duties you "want to do" and delegate the rest to your peons. Sure, some presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush were less hands-on than others but they didn't redefine the presidency as a Chairman of the board who picks and chooses the duties he spends his time on.
In the end, it probably doesn't matter what Manafort says anyway. The campaign is all over the place, with infighting and jockeying for position among the various players. This week Rick Wiley, the highly experienced political operative Manafort brought on board just six weeks ago was let go in a power struggle with a Florida campaign staffer, and friend of Manafort rival campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. According to Politico:
For weeks, Wiley made appointments and had discussions with Florida Republicans and appeared to be building a new campaign from scratch, sources say. They say he refused, at times, to return Giorno’s calls or take them. Giorno then began calling other Trump campaign officials to ask them whether Wiley had it out for her or for everyone.
On Thursday, word leaked back to Trump. He phoned Giorno, concerned, sources said. “Tell me what’s wrong?” Trump asked her, according to one person familiar with the call. "Karen unloaded on Wiley,” the source said. “Mr. Trump is loyal. He believed her. … Rick picked a fight with the wrong person.” At that point, Trump ordered Wiley to stay away from Giorno and to neither call nor email her. “Donald is loyal. And she’s loyal,” a source said.
Donald Trump is running his presidential campaign like a junior high school cheerleading squad. And this is the man who claims his business savvy is what qualifies him for the presidency.
Paul Manafort assured Fineman, however, that we could all rest easy about Trump being ready for the big job:
“Does he know enough? Yes, because he knows he has more to learn. And he is constantly doing that.”
Trump doesn’t read briefing papers, but he is a magnet for information, Manafort said. “He reads the newspapers, and he talks on the phone and to office visitors in a never-ending stream. You’re sitting there in his office and you realize that he is constantly picking up stuff as he goes.”
“We have all this survey research, but he does his own soundings all the time, all day every day. And he’s more accurate,” Manafort said.
He watches all the shows and obsessively reads his Twitter feed too.
It should be obvious by this time that Trump has absolutely no idea what he's doing and is making it up as he goes along. Paul Manafort is experienced at dealing with this sort of character, and seems quite comfortable doing it. But the campaign is a mess and that's because the candidate is a vainglorious buffoon who has no clue what he's doing and thinks he's a genius. I wouldn't bet on Manafort lasting through the duration.