Thursday, August 18, 2016

The hunting of the presidency (Part 11):
Trump’s campaign reset reset

FOR THE SECOND time in about as many months, the wreck of the Hesperus commonly known as the Donald Trump presidential campaign is undergoing a shift in strategy intended to stop (or slow) both a defection of American voters and Republican thought leaders and officials.

Paul Manafort, the attack dog brought in in March by the moneyed attention addict and Republican nominee, has been demoted from his role as campaign manager, as the Trump 2016 brain trust desperately attempts a reset of messaging.

With the latest Trump tweak, they’ve hired Stephen Bannon, a honcho grande at Breitbart News, as the new campaign overlord. The Trump campaign has also brought aboard Republican pollster and longtime Trump friend Kellyanne Conway to act as campaign manager, The Washington Post reported.

Trump released a statement: “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” he said. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

The Post, citing unnamed sources, reports that this new shakeup is meant to undercut Manafort’s apparent attempts to steer The Donald toward a more accessible, general-election campaign style — a lot like trying to put a muzzle on a rabid Doberman.

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THE POST, quoting unnamed campaign aides, also said Trump has been feeling “boxed in” and “controlled” by Manafort’s approach and that, with two old allies on board, the plan is to engage in “a reversion to how he ran his campaign in the primaries with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

“Lewandowski's mantra was ‘let Trump be Trump’ and Trump wants to get back to that type of campaign culture, the aides said.”

Which, as even the most casual campaign observer can tell you, is exactly why the campaign is where it is.

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A clear-eyed look at the rationale for Trump Plan B 2.0 can’t overlook the other, probable reason for Manafort’s demotion with Team Trump; he may have embarrassed the Trump campaign — and everyone knows that’s Donald Trump’s job.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that in 2012 Manafort was secretly working in behalf of the political party of Viktor Yanukovych, then Ukraine's president, in transferring more than $2 million to two D.C. lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC, without revealing that work — a violation of federal law.

“Under federal law, U.S. lobbyists must declare publicly if they represent foreign leaders or their political parties and provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department. A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000,” The AP reported.

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IN OTHER WAYS and places, in terms of polling, conservative alliances and public perception, the Trump campaign is nowhere good.

His much-hyped national security speech on Monday was an aggressive rehash of how he would do essentially what the Obama administration is doing already on dealing with ISIS. This paucity of original ideas in the national defense, an absence of credible statecraft and a provocatively cozy relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin have led to legions of Republicans and conservatives, at every point of the ideological spectrum, to run from Trump as fast and far as possible.

“Mr. Trump is a potential disaster as commander-in-chief—uninformed, volatile, poor judgment,” said Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army officer, to TIME in June. “Hard to believe this is the candidate of a major political party.”

“Trump is unexpectedly increasing my enthusiasm for Hillary,” said retired general Merrill McPeak, formerly the Air Force chief of staff for the Joint Chiefs, also to TIME. “What he is saying is not based on facts: it’s based on immaturity, bad judgment and ignorance, and I think it’s going to be hard for people in uniform who are thoughtful about this, to vote for him.”

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Reuters reported Monday on eight experts in the increasingly important arena of U.S.-Asia relations who signed a open letter denouncing Trump as a potential president, and predicting a “ruinous marginalization” of the United States as a player in the region if Trump wins in November. For the eight, Trump is “an unstable, ill-prepared amateur with no vision or foresight to meet the manifold challenges of the 21st century.”

George P. Schultz, secretary of state under President Reagan, reacted simply but directly to the possibility of a Trump presidency: "God help us."

True, their assessment isn’t necessarily consistent throughout officialdom or the military. But opinion polls sampling the mood of the general public aren’t any more optimistic. In a comprehensive overview of Trump’s prospects in several battleground states, some in the rock-ribbed south, Politico reported Wednesday that Trump’s electoral life-support options are shutting down.

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“Donald Trump’s path to the presidency is closing off, state by state,” Steven Shepard reported. “More than a half-dozen traditional, must-win battleground states are falling off the map as Hillary Clinton surges ahead of Trump in the polls. And it’s left Trump — who isn’t answering Clinton’s advertising in the swing states — with little plausible route to 270 electoral votes barring a major, sudden change to the dynamics of the race.”

The momentum of those dynamics has been in place for a while, way before the Republican convention. It stemmed from something that, bad as it was before, has only gotten worse, and more obvious.

“In our data, Republicans are notably less unified than Democrats are,” Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin told Politico. “Republicans are more likely to see the divisions continue until November.”

You don't change that by changing the people who run your campaign.

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NONE OF THIS may make a dime’s worth of difference to the Trump campaign and where they’ve decided to go. Politico reported Wednesday on how deep into the Trump tank Bannon is already. "If you counted all the lipstick on Trump’s backside, most of it would be Breitbart red. So he’s earned his way to where he is."

The Post reports: “Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.

“Trump has listened intently to Bannon and agreed with him, believing that voters will ultimately want a presidential candidate who represents disruption more than a candidate with polished appeal, the aides said.”

In short, Bannon plans to double down on the Donald Trump we already know. How that primary-season strategy serves the candidate in the heat of the general election campaign is anyone’s guess. The time for preaching to the choir you started with is over. At least you’d think so 85 days before the election.

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Party leadership is not happy. The Post reports: “Rick Wilson, a GOP consultant working for independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, said angst was evident Wednesday morning in a round of phone calls to his friends on Capitol Hill.

He predicted that the [Republican National Committee] would be pressured to eventually distance itself from Bannon and then possibly from Trump, in order to protect down-ballot GOP candidates across the country.

“‘If you were looking for a tone or pivot, Bannon will pivot you in a dark, racist and divisive direction. It’ll be a nationalist, hateful campaign,’” Wilson said. “‘Republicans should run away.’ ”

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BOTTOM LINE IS, we’re advised to brace ourselves for the next phase of the Trump campaign, likely to be and show us more of the same of what we’ve had for the last 14 months.

As the new campaign adjustment lets Trump be Trump (as though he ever stopped doing that in the first place) we’ll watch for the next reset of the reset to come. With less than three months until Election Day, the Trump campaign is working to reset everything ... but the candidate himself.

Failing to do that — and rest assured, campaign operatives will fail to do that — is an extension of the one equally unattainable course of action required for the Trump campaign, something that's becoming more impossible to achieve: go all-in for the other reset they must have, the one Donald Trump desperately needs with the American public.

Image credits: Trump top, Manafort: Associated Press. Clinton-Trump crossover donations chart: © 2016 The New York Times

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