Paul Manafort, who made his name (and fortune) as a career power lobbyist, political consultant to dictators, and veteran Republican operative, seems to have finally met his match in Donald Trump.
With news that Manafort resigned from the campaign on Friday, less than three months before Election Day, after being sidelined in favor of new hires Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, Trump firmly rebuked the calls for a more professional and traditional campaign that Manafort promised to implement.
Stuck in a bad reality TV show – and with growing focus on his own dealings with pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine – Manafort jumped ship after losing his central role in the campaign. With a candidate whose persona is staked on lobbing off-color remarks over any perceived slight, speaking off script, and spinning his own controversies into news cycles, Manafort’s task was perhaps doomed to fail. But maybe not this spectacularly.
In the nearly five months of Manafort’s reign, Trump managed to get into all kinds of trouble. Here are just a few of the best and worst blunders from the Manafort era and the great general election pivot that never quite arrived.
Trump Stays Off Message On Social Media
While Manafort set about painting Trump with a presidential veneer, the short-fused candidate’s chronic Twitter habit repeatedly undermined the campaign’s public message.
Manafort reportedly tried to prevent Trump from sending out a Cinco de Mayo tweet that showed him beaming over a taco bowl and read “I love Hispanics,” cautioning that it may be seen as offensive to Latino voters. Trump did it anyway, and was reportedly thrilled by the backlash the tweet caused, saying that “the people who were offended were people we wanted to offend.”
This insistence on getting out his own message extended to more serious matters as well. Hours after a gunman went on a shooting rampage at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June, Trump posted a string of tweets saying he “called” that the U.S. would experience more terrorist attacks. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he wrote.
Trump’s detractors criticized him for using a terrorist attack that left 49 dead and 53 wounded as an opportunity to pat himself on the back.
Manafort’s Predecessor Publicly Undermines Him
The June ouster of divisive campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was supposed to usher in a newly mature, serious campaign under Manafort’s watchful eye. That didn’t go quite as planned. While still receiving severance from the Trump campaign, Lewandowski was hired as a CNN commentator, where he acted as a booster for his former boss but also took pot shots at his replacement.
After Melania Trump lifted words from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic convention speech for her own address at the Republican National Convention, Lewandowski suggested on air that Manafort should step down if he was responsible for the oversight.
“I think if it was Paul Manafort, he would do the right thing and resign,” Lewandowski said.
Donald Trump Jr. effectively told Lewandowski to stay in his lane, saying, “There is a reason Paul is in the position that he is today and Corey is not and it is not because Paul is amateur hour.”
Yet the campaign lacked the clear division of power that Trump Jr.’s remarks suggested. Lewandowski continued to advise his former boss and stayed in close touch with him, even receiving a phone call from Trump while on the CNN set.
This week, Lewandowski tweeted a link to a New York Times story alleging that Manafort was earmarked to receive millions from a pro-Russian Ukranian political party, then explained that he was just drawing attention to the media’s unfair attention to the Trump campaign.
Yet he seemed to winkingly acknowledge that he was pleased at his replacement’s departure, retweeting a post on Friday that said “Lewandowski is winning so much even he may get tired of winning.”
Waging War On A Gold Star Military Family
After the parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan made a powerful appeal for voting against Trump at the Democratic National Convention, Trump went on a days-long tear criticizing the Gold Star family whose son was killed in the line of duty in Iraq.
Trump criticized Humayun’s mother, Ghazala Khan, who was visibly emotional during the address, for not speaking, and disputed Khizr Khan’s assertion that Trump had never made a sacrifice like his son’s.
The remarks were almost universally condemned, to the point where even the apolitical Veterans of Foreign Wars called Trump out for his “out-of-bounds” remarks, saying the organization “will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member.”
Trump repeatedly refused to back down, saying he was only hitting back after the Khans maligned him first. He later said, “I don’t regret anything” about criticizing the Khans.
A Trainwreck GOP Convention
What was meant to be a razzle-dazzle celebration of Trump as the party’s standard-bearer in Cleveland became more like a traveling carnival that was made for daytime TV.
A rare public address from the nation’s would-be next first lady, Melania Trump, ended in major embarrassment when it was found the speech contained passages copied word for word from Michelle Obama’s 2012 convention speech.
Two nights later, Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) made it doubly clear that he wouldn’t capitulate to Trump. Cruz gave a rousing campaign speech urging delegates to “vote your conscience” and managed to leave the stage without endorsing his party’s nominee, but not before he was interrupted by angry audience members booing and chanting “We want Trump!” The scene got nasty enough that Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was escorted out of the arena over security concerns.
To cap off the convention, Trump delivered a dark vision of the country in turmoil, failing in the face of threats both foreign and domestic. The speech echoed the tone of much of the convention, where delegates shouted “lock her up” and “build that wall.”
The low-production-value of the RNC was thrown into sharp relief on the final night of the DNC in Philadelphia, when Republican Party veterans and conservative activists of all stripes publicly bemoaned the Democrats ending the GOP’s monopoly on patriotism and American values.
Trump Fights Fire With Fire In Presser About Old Controversies
After yet another week of campaign trail hiccups, someone on Team Trump decided it would be a fine idea to allow the candidate to hold a press conference to right all wrongs – which ended up being a chance for the GOP nominee to dredge up his oldest controversies as a candidate.
One year to the week after Trump, then a fledgling primary candidate, suggested Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked tough debate questions because she had “blood coming out of her whatever,” Trump condemned anyone who thought he was alluding to her menstrual cycle as “perverted.”
Speaking about his jerking around and stuttering on stage, which was widely read as a specific dig at a disabled New York Times reporter, Trump rationalized that he was “acting out groveling” and said he’s spent “millions” making his properties accessible to people with disabilities, apparently a reference to legally mandated building requirements.
For good measure, Trump added in that if his policy banning immigration from certain countries had been in place, the Sept. 11, 2011 attackers “wouldn’t have been here to knock down the World Trade Center.”
Trump Keeps Stoking Party Disunity
In the primary race, Trump prided himself on running an anti-establishment, “self-funded” campaign that didn’t bow down to GOP leaders in D.C. This posed a challenge once he emerged as the presumptive nominee, with many Republicans reluctant to lend him their support, a barebones national infrastructure, and woefully inadequate funds in the campaign coffers.
Manafort set about rectifying the situation, meeting with Republican National Committee members and GOPers on Capitol Hill to assure them that they would soon see a tamer, more “presidential” Trump. Though the nominee himself met with officials and gave several scripted speeches, he never stopped the personal attacks that gave wary Republicans pause.
In July, Trump received some of the most scathing criticism yet for his weeks-long attack on the Mexican heritage of a federal judge. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called his remarks “the textbook definition” of racism. Throughout the summer, he scorned the support of the RNC officials who were effectively running his national campaign, saying they were only raising funds because of his position at the top of the ticket and dismissing the need to “get out the vote.”
Trump initially refused to endorse Ryan and vulnerable senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) because of their past criticism, before relenting under pressure from RNC leadership.
The campaign also scrambled to make up for lost time after an embarrassing May FEC report showed Trump trailing Clinton by millions in fundraising and cash on hand. In their haste, they ended up soliciting donations from foreign politicians in Australia, Iceland, Britain, Denmark and Finland, prompting complaints from government watchdog groups.
Manafort’s Ukraine Scandal And Ties To Russia
Soon after Manafort joined the campaign, reports came out about his lucrative past work as a consultant for some of the world’s most notorious dictators, including the Philippine’s Ferdinand Marcos and the former Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. The Huffington Post reported that Trump saw the criticism Manafort received for this work as a “badge of honor.”
Yet Manafort’s political ties came under closer scrutiny over the summer as the nominee he counseled espoused an increasingly aggressive pro-Russian policy. Though the campaign made few changes to the GOP platform ahead of the July convention, language was changed in one amendment to soften the party’s stance on helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian military interventions.
Given that Manafort served as a consultant to Ukraine’s ousted Russia-allied president Viktor Yanukovych, foreign policy observers suspected his influence. A bombshell New York Times report, that Manafort denied, found that he was listed on a secret ledger kept by Yanukovych’s now defunct Party of Regions and earmarked to receive $12.7 million in off-the-books cash. The Associated Press also reported that Manafort helped the Party of Regions route at least $2.2 million in payments to two D.C. lobbying firms while never disclosing that he represented a foreign political party—a potential violation of U.S. law.
Trump’s family called Manafort’s Ukraine ties a “distraction” on Friday and said they influenced the decision to remove him as campaign manager.
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