Trump will underperform in Wisconsin tomorrow.
What happens next is predictable, almost ritualistic, as I’ve written before.
Thus, the shake-up in Trump’s campaign on Wednesday is preordained, for several reasons. First, the Wisconsin defeat will provide the alibi, for something already in motion, not considered earlier by Trump, because disgruntled staff was reluctant to petition him. But in-house anxiety is now palpable, and that something is revamping the campaign’s top tier. Trump doubled down to support his campaign manager, under siege, as further evidence, not of Trump’s loyalty, but, it turns out, of the candidate’s detachment from reality. Second, the timing is supposed to avoid more searching questions; it won’t. Third, Trump wants to saves face, as if the problem doesn’t involve him; it does. Fourth, Trump’s campaign manager has been managing Trump’s rallies, not the campaign, but that’s because Trump, favoring a circus barker, played it this way. Fifth, Trump’s campaign manager has been a yes man to the candidate, but that’s because Trump valued sycophancy over candor.
Some on the Trump campaign team were drawn to Trump for apparent reasons, just like a varied plurality of Republican voters. Trump staff groupies also saw him as a champion of the disaffected, abandoned by a Republican party controlled by the Washington Beltway, the lobbyists, and the Consultant Class. But they, at least some on the team who have campaign experience, despaired of Trump’s repeated self-inflicted wounds that defined the Midnight Tweeter not merely as a politically incorrect rebel, but as a discourteous, if not even obnoxious, juvenile, by wide consensus, un-presidential. And the campaign manager was consumed as much with his access to the candidate and consequent self-promotion, as with results, and the Trump plurality has been checked, rather than expansive. Background: the best campaign manager goes about his business quietly, not in the limelight. Hence the campaign mutiny, now unleashed, has been in the making, abbreviated by prior electoral success.
The timing of the staff shake-up (it will be called a reorganization or enhancement or organic growth) in the wake of Wisconsin is supposed to pretend Tuesday’s election results are the reason for the campaign overhaul, as well as the Trump campaign’s need to remedy its amateurish disinterest in a convention strategy and its failure to address the concomitant nuts and bolts, to deal with the permutations in convention rules, and to create previously ignored contingencies to regroup if a delegate majority eludes Mr. Trump on the first ballot. But media attention will still return to Trump’s most recent awful week, which does explain much of the Wisconsin disintegration.
It appeals to Trump to say that he is new to politics, and that his team has miscalculated, or requires beefing-up for the climax, a realignment of responsibilities, it will be said. But the truth is when he was doing well, Trump imprudently raised the profile of his campaign manager, though Mr. Lewandowski already was a source of deserved controversy. Even if Mr. Lewandowski has erred, and he has, egregiously so, it is unfair to make him the whipping boy, the scapegoat, as the buck stops with Trump. Trump’s face saving, if it occurs, is not healthy, because a contrite and (at long last) remorseful Trump, who would (out of character) take responsibility for Wisconsin, would help himself immensely, a necessary preamble if Trump is to salvage his downward momentum, if salvation is still possible.
The Trump campaign has been one big telegenic rally after another, combined with tweets and daily interviews, often in-person, at least by telephone. Trump’s campaign manager directed the circus, but the act failed to change, and he was hardly a fiduciary to the impulsive candidate. Trump wanted it this way, and it seemed to work, or did it?
The campaign manager has been a yes man. Why? Trump does not surround himself with compliant underlings in business. But in politics he saw any skeptic on his team as a naysayer, rather than a useful devil’s advocate. The result is that a candidate who should have been briefed regularly on issues, momentous and topical, and grown in substance and insight, that candidate instead has deservedly (for now) unraveled, whether in going after families of terrorists, promoting more nukes on different continents, or punishing women for abortions (even if hypothetically), all this stuff avoidable.
So Trump has found an adult, Paul Manafort, to lead his overdue foray into convention politics. Better late than never, though Mr. Manafort is playing catch-up to the mature Cruz operation; ironically, Paul is the quintessential embodiment of the Beltway Consultant Class, about whom Mr. Trump despairs, and that which he supposedly would overthrow. The candidate will want Manafort to assume an even greater role (gravitas) in the campaign, but Paul has his hands full with a Trump first ballot victory up in the air. Can Paul walk (the delegates) and chew gum (the overall campaign) at the same time, while holding the (up until now) self-destructive candidate in line?
And Manafort knows that the delegate strategy and delegate tactics are both inextricably linked to the candidate and the campaign. For example, he cannot plot to keep or sway delegates if the candidate continues to alienate many voters who actually were open to him.
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