After a few days that gave Dems plenty of heartburn, there’s more positive news from the Republican side of the aisle. The appointment of Charles Manafort to run the delegate operation for the Trump campaign strikes me as an unqualified plus for the Democrats. Manafort is a storied, decades-long player in high level GOP politics. He’s close to Trump advisor/gadfly/eminence semi-grise Roger Stone and actually Stone’s former business partner. The idea is that Corey Lewandowski is still Trump’s campaign manager and still running strategy. But that seems like a stretch given how central the delegate wrangling process has now become and how total Manafort’s hold on that process appears to be. In any case, it’s not clear to me that Lewandowski has ever been ‘campaign manager’ in any real sense. To the extent anyone is really calling the shots in Trump’s campaign it seems to be Trump. I am not familiar with any major national campaign where the campaign manager traveled with the candidate and acts like a body man. In any case, Manafort is now a big player in the operation and here’s why that’s good news for the Dems.
It’s still not clear to me that Trump’s ability to secure the Republican nomination has fallen as much as conventional wisdom now suggests. The one bad week followed by the drubbing in Wisconsin have generated a lot of bad press. But he should do very well in New York, a state with a ton of delegates. That is followed by a string of other states where Trump seems likely to do very well. If those states turn out that way, the mood of the moment will change a lot.
What is true, however, is that the dimension scale of the scale of Trump’s victories has made getting to 1237 delegates considerably more difficult. Not impossible but no sure thing either – and Republicans seem emboldened (though I think they’re fooling themselves) in thinking they can ignore Trump after the first ballot. As long as Trump has no adult supervision and no experienced hands in the dark delegate fight (not winning the elections but making sure the delegate distributions match the elections) he could really get fleeced of a lot of delegates and be in a much weaker position by July. I don’t think Manafort will let that happen. At least, he’ll be able to do as much as the existing machinery of the GOP and resistance of GOP regulars will allow.
On top of that, he’ll fight dirty and hard, which is no more than Cruz is already doing and anyone who wanted to win would do in the current situation. But it’s critical. If standing in the GOP establishment mattered to him he wouldn’t have taken the gig in the first place.
The part of the equation that’s not totally clear to me is how plugged in Manafort still is with establishment Republican players and the consultant/operative class. His history is at the very center of GOP power politics. But my sense is that he hasn’t been that in the game in the last few cycles, spending more of his time working for Ukrainian oligarchs and stuff like that. How plugged in he remains or doesn’t remain will determine how much his role will help fracture the operative class and how many skilled people he will be able to bring in to work for Trump.
Of course in the background is this question: why is he even doing this? I’m skeptical of how ideologically invested Manafort is one way or another with Trumpism. Anyone at this point has to see that Trump looks destined for a colossal general election defeat. That leaves money and ego, which of course are plenty for politics. But his ability to make some kind of credible case for why operatives should try to help Trump secure the nomination will play some role in how effectively he’s able to do the job. Regardless, money will get them pretty far. But there are limitations to just money. Because smart operatives want to be employable after November.
All of it comes down to this: Democrats gain the more likely it is that Trump becomes the nominee. If he doesn’t become the nominee, Democrats gain by every additional increment of acrimony, division and chaos involved in denying him the nomination. As a possible additional benefit, the more the battle for dark delegates heats up and becomes the center of news, that should further lock the convention in to choosing either Trump or Cruz. So if not Trump, then Cruz. Also good for Democrats. Manafort’s addition to the campaign seems to move the ball forward on both (or perhaps two-and-a-half) fronts. These guys are street fighters. They won’t give up easily or go away quietly.