Donald Trump loses his second campaign chief in two months
IN THE foreign policy speech he delivered on August 15th Donald Trump promised to institute “extreme vetting” of anyone seeking to migrate to or visit America. Yet the embarrassing demise, amid scandal, of his second campaign chief in two months does not inspire much confidence in Mr Trump’s abilities on this front. On August 19th Paul Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign, a few days after he had been sidelined as in an emergency shake-up.
Slick as wet paint, Mr Manafort is a vastly experienced political operator who cut his teeth working on Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign in 1976. He had got to know Mr Trump in the lobby of the tycoon’s eponymous Manhattan skyscraper, Trump Tower; Mr Manafort happened to rent an apartment there. He was hired in March to work on Mr Trump’s delegate strategy for the Republican National Convention, then given overall charge after the campaign’s previous boss, Corey Lewandowski, was sacked, also amid scandal.
Mr Lewandowski, a former police officer with limited previous experience of front-rank politics, had become embroiled in nasty rows with journalists, some of whom he was alleged to have propositioned when drunk. As his successor, Mr Manafort tried to professionalise Mr Trump’s small, jerry-rigged team. He was also credited with urging Mr Trump to appear a bit less petty, vindictive and irascible—or “more presidential”, as this is often expressed.
Mr Trump’s subsequent gaffes—his rudeness to the bereaved parents of a dead American soldier, his suggestion that Hillary Clinton faced assassination, and so forth—showed how utterly Mr Manafort failed in this regard. He doesn’t seem to have made much headway with Mr Trump’s campaign operation, either; three months from the election, it is still threadbare, or absent, in important swing states. Perhaps the best that can be said for his efforts is that, in rounds of emergency television interviews, arranged to discuss Mr Trump’s latest rudeness or eccentricity, Mr Manafort was a more competent apologist for his boss than Mr Lewandowski had been.
Yet an emerging difficulty was that, when not working on Republican campaigns, Mr Manafort and public relations firms he has been associated with worked for a lot of unsavoury foreigners—including an impressive roster of African tyrants and kleptocrats, such as Siad Barre of Somalia and Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo, and, latterly, the pro-Russian former government of Ukraine, led by Viktor Yanukyovych. Mr Manafort’s work in Kiev came under particular scrutiny given Mr Trump’s own strange fondness for Mr Yanukyovych’s patron, Vladimir Putin.
It was recently alleged by the New York Times that Mr Manafort could have received $12m in undisclosed cash payments from Mr Yanukovych’s political party. Mr Manafort denied that he had. Yet the stories about his time in Ukraine were becoming a distraction for the Trump campaign and, it seems, there may have been more in the pipeline.
That was one possible reason why, on August 16th, it was announced that Mr Manafort had been shunted aside in favour of Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart New, a right-wing, conspiracy-theorising website, who had been appointed Mr Trump’s campaign chief executive, and Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, who had been taken on as campaign chief. It was also suggested that Mr Trump had simply wearied of Mr Manafort’s hen-pecking advice.
Ms Conway’s early pronouncements seemed to support that. “We’re going to make sure Donald Trump is comfortable about being in his own skin,” she said. That did not sound like a promise of a tamer Trump—even if a speech Mr Trump delivered in North Carolina on August 19th, in which he expressed “regret” for having offended people, suggests he may, belatedly, be trying to do as Mr Manafort advised.
The truth is, Mr Trump is too irascible and his campaign too chaotic for it to be clear why Mr Manafort went the way of his predecessor. Maybe he just got blamed for Mr Trump lagging so badly in the polls. It is also not at all obvious how his departure might change that. For Mr Trump to have fallen out with one campaign chief might have looked unlucky. To have fallen out with two looks incompetent.