The Closer

The man did write The Art of the Deal and on Thursday, May 26, 2016, Donald Trump closed the deal:

Donald J. Trump officially secured the number of delegates he needed to clinch the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, according to an Associated Press tally that showed unbound delegates putting him over the top.

Before a speech about energy here on Thursday, Mr. Trump held a news conference intended to commemorate the symbolic elevation. He took questions from reporters for about 30 minutes, speaking with a backdrop of more than a dozen unpledged North Dakota delegates who are now supporting him.

“I’m so honored,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m so honored by these people. They had such great sense.”

They had the great sense to realize that the Republican Party never was something like some hypothetical American Conservative Party. That was always hypothetical. The Republican base is not filled with folks who read Ayn Rand and Edmund Burke and really care about the Austrian school of economics – whatever that is. They shrug at core conservative principles, so Paul Ryan and Grover Norquist will just have to create a new party, the American Conservative Party – which, it seems, will be quite small. Everyone else on that side of things is in Trump’s Republican Party, with half of them thinking it’s now what they had always hoped it would be, that long overdue Christian White-Nationalist Party, and the other half thinking they’re really in the Prosperity-Gospel Party, and they’ll get rich too. But they’ll call themselves Republicans. That’s convenient enough. There’s no need to change the letterhead or anything.

Now all that’s left is the mopping up:

In his news conference, Mr. Trump – who in New Mexico on Tuesday night criticized Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, and called Mitt Romney “a choker” who walks “like a penguin” – also said he planned to unify the Republican Party.

“We have had tremendous support of almost everybody, and even if you look at Congress, the support has been incredible,” Mr. Trump said.

He added that he spoke over the phone Wednesday night with the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, who so far has declined to endorse Mr. Trump. “We had a very good conversation that’s moving along,” Mr. Trump said. “He is a good man. We’ll see how that all works out.”

Ryan will get with the program. Starting a brand-new political party is such a bother, and no one accounted for Trump’s final move. Like all good businessmen, Trump, earlier in the month, had brought in a closer:

Power over the management of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is shifting to Paul Manafort.

Manafort was hired for his experience with contested Republican conventions, but now that that threat has passed, Trump is naming the 67-year-old strategist as the campaign chairman, aides told Bloomberg Politics.

Corey Lewandowski, 42, will continue to be campaign manager, Hope Hicks, the campaign’s spokesperson, said. But Manafort, whose title also currently includes chief strategist, is now in charge of every facet of the campaign.

That was an interesting choice, because Manafort wasn’t a big name, but Anne Applebaum, who writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for the Washington Post and is also the Director of the Global Transitions Program at the Legatum Institute in London, had early on explained who this guy is:

Famously, a group of California political consultants claimed to have masterminded Boris Yeltsin’s campaign to win the Russian presidency in 1996. Even if their role wasn’t quite what they spun it to be, that campaign, like many that followed, certainly deployed what were generally called “American-style” campaign tactics. Rock concerts, hip “get out the vote” MTV campaigns – none of that had been used in Russia before. In the years that followed, copycat campaigns popped up all over what had once been the eastern bloc.

Trump decided he had to get him one of those:

Donald Trump’s new campaign manager Paul Manafort returns to U.S. politics after many years spent working for Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine until he fled the country in disgrace in 2014. We don’t really know what exactly Manafort did for his Ukrainian client. But we do know how Yanukovych won the Ukrainian elections in 2010, and how he ran the country. Perhaps Manafort can transmit some lessons from his experience for a would-be U.S. president.

To begin with, Yanukovych did undergo a profound “image makeover” strikingly similar to the one that Trump needs right now. Yanukovych was an ex-con, close to Russian-backed business interests in Ukraine. He had, in other words, “high negatives.” But he cleaned up his act, stopped using criminal jargon and presented himself as a “reform” candidate, as opposed to the crooked establishment. Since everybody was genuinely sick of the crooked establishment, he won – despite the fact that he was no more honest than the people he’d said he was trying to beat. This of course, is what Trump is going to try to do: persuade people to support him because he is an outrageous, truth-speaking “outsider,” even though in reality he’s as much of an “insider” as it is possible to be. Manafort, with his deep experience in this particular con trick, can help.

That was a month ago and Manafort did help, because he already knew what to do:

On his way to power, and once in power, Yanukovych also became famous for the use of rented thugs, known as “titushki,” who could be used to intimidate opposition protestors, journalists, or whoever needed to be scared off. These weren’t police, and they weren’t security guards. They were just guys paid by Yanukovych to rough people up and scare them. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party, Fidesz, has recently made use of a similar method, deploying skinheads to prevent their political opponents from registering for a referendum. We’ve seen prototype versions of this tactic already in use at Trump rallies.

Well, that stuff works, and that wasn’t all:

Some of Yanukovych’s tactics might be harder to deploy, such as falsifying election results (though it’s not like that never happened in the U.S.) or abolishing the right to protest (though Trump at times sounds like he wouldn’t mind passing such a law if he could). But others are already in use. Pro-Trump troll armies, for example – fake Twitter accounts programmed to tweet the same message, a very popular tactic east of the Dnieper – are already in the field.

Another Yanukovych tactic – paid supporters at rallies – is already in the Trump arsenal too.

Trump had found his closer, and now that this closer has been promoted, Howard Fineman did the logical thing. He didn’t interview Trump. He interviewed Manafort:

Paul Manafort looks the part of a chairman: 67, well-coiffed, bespoke-suited and appropriately Rolexed. In the world of Donald Trump, that’s his title: campaign chairman and chief strategist.

And as chairmen do, Manafort assured us that his enterprise will be crowned with success: Trump will beat Hillary Clinton soundly in November.

“He’s gonna win,” Manafort said over breakfast at a local diner called The Royal in Old Town Alexandria. “He’s gonna win unless we – meaning people like me – screw it up. This is not a hard race.”

Why? In Manafort’s summary: Trump will remain Trump.

He may moderate a few views – think Muslims – but he won’t and doesn’t need to back down on anything. He probably won’t pick a woman or a member of a minority group as a running mate because that would be “pandering.” He won’t win George W. Bush’s levels of Latino support, but he will pick up enough Hispanic votes in key swing states. He won’t get the Bush family’s support and doesn’t want it. Trump just has to be presidential enough in the first debate (no body parts mentioned), pick an experienced running mate, and run Clinton into the ground as a corrupt version of Barack Obama.

He’ll win with white men and women, plus just enough of everyone else. Simple.

In short, Viktor Yanukovych was hard, but Trump is easy, with some exceptions:

“There are two main challenges. One is to make the American people look at him and say, ‘He can fill the chair.'”

“Does he know enough? Yes, because he knows he has more to learn. And he is constantly doing that.”

Trump doesn’t read briefing papers, but he is a magnet for information, Manafort said. “He reads the newspapers, and he talks on the phone and to office visitors in a never-ending stream. You’re sitting there in his office and you realize that he is constantly picking up stuff as he goes.”

Picking stuff up as you go doesn’t seem like a good way to run the country, at least not to some of us, and there’s that other challenge:

The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he’s ready for the White House, Manafort said.

“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”

“There is a long list of who that person could be,” Manafort added, “and every one of them has major problems.”

The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. “In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.”

The responses to both of these challenges seem odd, and Slate’s Josh Voorhees addresses the first:

Being president of the United States of America is, to put it mildly, hard work. It’s an incredibly taxing job that involves making an untold number of decisions – a few big and splashy, the vast majority small-bore and likely to go unnoticed unless something goes catastrophically wrong – that will impact millions and millions of people. Setting aside the power and the prestige, the day-to-day job doesn’t sound like one Donald Trump would actually want. And, according to his top campaign strategist, he doesn’t.

Voorhees finds that puzzling:

For those of you who don’t speak MBA, the chief executive is a company’s top decision-maker while the chief operating officer or president typically handles the day-to-day operation. (POTUS is probably best thought of as a combination of the two, though his or her chief of staff also has some COO-like duties.) A company’s chairman of the board takes a significantly broader view of long-term strategy and stays out of the daily grind altogether.

The daily grind is for the chief executive, in this case in the actual executive branch of government – that’s the actual job here. Trump wants someone else to do it while he floats above it all, thinking big thoughts or something – so they may have to change the oath of office for him. He cannot “faithfully execute” the law of the land when he’s delegated that tedious and boring stuff to some poor sucker who has to do the actual work.

Something odd is going on here, and Voorhees adds this:

Manafort has had a long and (sadly) successful career reinventing some of the world’s nastiest tyrants as noble defenders of freedom, and he’s already off to a solid start repeating that here since being hired by Trump earlier this year. He’s tried to assure the Republican establishment that much of Trump’s primary performance was all just an act, and many in the party have either been convinced or realize it’s in their best interest to pretend to agree.

Here we see Manafort make that no-reason-to-be-terrified pitch directly to the general public. Manafort is laying the groundwork for something resembling a GOP unity ticket, where Trump diehards focus on their man at the top of the ticket and Trump-skeptical Republicans focus on the establishment figure sitting in the No. 2 slot – who they’re told will actually run the government day to day. I guess he has good evidence that the party would be cool with that.

Perhaps the base doesn’t care that much about the details of how the government works, and Dara Lind at Vox comments on that other matter:

White men make up about 30.6 percent of the United States population. In 2012 they made up 35 percent of voters. But according to Donald Trump’s campaign chair, white men make up 100 percent of people who could possibly be qualified to be vice president.

That’s certainly the implication of what Trump campaign chair and chief strategist Paul Manafort told the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman.

That is what that “pandering” comment seemed to say, and that presents difficulties:

There’s a long tradition of presidential nominees using their vice presidential picks to pander to a particular constituency – though usually the constituency being pandered to isn’t “women” or “Latino voters” but rather “voters from the VP nominee’s home state, which happens to be a swing state in this election.”

But Manafort isn’t saying we won’t pick a VP nominee just because she checks the right boxes on race and gender. He’s saying that because we’re not trying to check boxes on race and gender, we’ll end up picking a vice president who’s a white man.

That’s a very different thing! That certainly implies that, to Manafort, the only reason you might end up picking a VP who happened to not be male or white would be because of her race or gender, not because of her qualifications. In other words, that if you rounded up all the people who are qualified in their own right to serve as President Trump’s right-hand man, they would all be, well, white-handed men.

Then add this:

To be fair to Manafort, the bar for being “qualified” for the vice presidency is higher than usual when the man at the top of the ticket is Donald Trump. That’s because, as Manafort admits elsewhere in the interview with Fineman, the job of Trump’s VP will be to do the parts of the United States presidency Donald Trump “doesn’t want to do.”

That won’t do:

This raises all kinds of much bigger questions about Trump’s suitability for the presidency: what “the part of the job he doesn’t want to do” is; how much of the job it entails; and why Donald Trump actually wants to be president of the United States to begin with. But as far as the VP search is concerned, it dovetails with comments Trump himself has made: that as someone with no experience in elected office, he wants a running mate who has spent time in government and knows how Washington works.

Such people, however, are pretty much old white men, as if that matters:

More to the point, though, the Republican Party wouldn’t be looking for the caretaker vice president of all caretaker vice presidents if it hadn’t ceded the nomination to someone with literally no experience in elected office, who routinely indicates a lack of interest in how government actually works and whose appeal rests on his ability to make a certain stripe of Americans think he cares about them.

In other words, if Donald Trump weren’t so good at pandering to a certain group of white Americans, Paul Manafort wouldn’t be so worried about a VP pick pandering to anybody else.

Then add this too:

It’s possible that Manafort is saying something slightly different: not that the only people who’d be a good vice president are white men, but that the campaign will deliberately refrain from picking a woman or person of color who’d be a good vice president because the pick would be viewed as pandering. That is hardly less worrisome.

It means that Donald Trump, whose credibility as a potential president relies almost entirely on his ability to hire “the right people,” is actually less interested in hiring the best person for the job than in making it look like he’s hiring the right person. And it means he believes the only way to make it look like he’s hiring the right person is to hire a white man.

Then add this too:

In fairness, among Trump supporters, that might be right. There’s certainly a tendency to assume that women and people of color in high-profile or executive roles only got there because of affirmative action, and from there it’s only a hop, skip, and jump to assuming that anyone in a high-profile role who’s not a white man is unqualified for the job.

But to lean into that by declining to hire qualified candidates because they’re not white men (and therefore some people might think them unqualified) is pretty clearly discrimination. And refusing to hire the best person for the job because it might not play well with some of your base? That seems a lot like pandering.

Trump’s “closer” is about to find out that this is actually going to be a lot harder than the Viktor Yanukovych gig was, but Josh Marshall looks at the other side:

I thought Elizabeth Warren would be a great Veep pick but it wouldn’t happen because it would add to the burden of retaking the Senate. Massachusetts has a Republican governor. That would mean at least 6 months or so of an additional Republican senator in 2017 – assuming Clinton wins. But I’m reconsidering that. In fact, I’m past reconsidering: Hillary should put Warren on the ticket.

Here’s his reasoning:

The modern vice presidency – as a political device – is seldom about ideological balance or bringing a critical state into play. As it happens, Warren would be a helpful political balancing both in general and coming off the bruising Clinton v Sanders fight. But the most effective modern Veep picks have been ones that helpfully frame and reinforce the message the person at the top of the ticket embodies.

For Bill Clinton in 1992, picking Al Gore for his second was crazy by conventional standards, which were generally regional and ideological. Gore was by traditional measures almost a carbon copy of Clinton. But his pick reinforced the image of youth, newness and a different kind of Democratic Party. He also added some ballast to offset Clinton’s lack of DC experience and personal impulsiveness. Fundamentally, Gore didn’t balance Clinton; he intensified the positives about him and offset the negatives.

Joe Biden did something similar for Barack Obama. Obama certainly wasn’t angling for Delaware. For all the cultural and generational differences, their politics were indistinguishable.

That makes Warren perfect:

Warren is off-the-cuff, free-wheeling and direct in all the ways Clinton is cautious and rehearsed. But it is a reinforcing rather than an invidious contrast and likely helps bring to the surface Hillary’s progressive background that has been buried by decades at the pinnacle of Democratic Party politics and years as the punching bag of the left of the party which feels excluded by the seemingly endless Clinton ascendency. 

And he likes Warren’s recent speeches:

The tone, rhythm and style are exactly what the Democrats need to knock Trump down and bring out his toxic mix of personal insecurity and emotional instability. It’s not over-earnest or off-key or droning (traditional Democratic tonalities – let’s be honest). She’s mocking, substantive and constantly on target.

Indeed, Trump’s responses to Warren, his attacks on her, make it clear to me he’ll have a hard time handling her.

I’ve made clear that I think Trump just being Trump will make it very hard for him to win a national election, almost regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of his opponent. There are only so many white men in the country and fewer and fewer of us. My one concern, though I wouldn’t say it is a major one, is what I talked about almost a year ago, which is the fact that he moves so quickly, is so protean that he can just rapidly get in the spokes of a conventional campaign. And any Hillary Clinton campaign is highly, highly conventional. Even though Warren is so different from Trump’s mix of hatred, bombast and lurking violence, I think Warren can match Trump on this ability to cut free from the media vectors and planning supply lines of the modern presidential campaign and strike hard and fast in real time. That’s a big deal. 

In short, Hillary Clinton should put her on the ticket – but what Marshall doesn’t account for is the other option. Warren could be Clinton’s closer. Someone has to figure out how to explain things. Trump hired a guy with expertise in rehabilitating thuggish dictators. All that Warren would have to do is explain why we don’t want one of them. She could close the deal.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Closer

  1. Rick says:

    In the Huffington Post, Howard Fineman tells what he learned from talking with Donald Trump’s new brain, Paul Manafort:

    Trump doesn’t read briefing papers, but he is a magnet for information, Manafort said. “He reads the newspapers, and he talks on the phone and to office visitors in a never-ending stream. You’re sitting there in his office and you realize that he is constantly picking up stuff as he goes.”

    A “never-ending stream” is what you get from a fortune teller, who is able to use constant blithering to fool their mark into thinking they know more than they do.

    I’ve heard this he-just-picks-up-stuff thing about Trump before, and every time I do, I’m reminded of that episode of “The Bullwinkle Show” in which Bullwinkle Moose, speaking to a confused shipping magnate named Pericles Parnassus, says …

    “Boy, for a powerful magnate, you sure don’t pick things up very fast!”

    We see Trump, the confidence-man, in action at his rallies where, rather than details of how he plans to do something — like create jobs, which can be picked apart by people who actually know about this stuff — he substitutes exclamational phrases (“Boy, I’m going to create so many jobs, so fast! Tremendous jobs, incredible jobs! It’ll make your head spin!”) that make you want to just trust that he knows how to do it; otherwise, why would he seem so sure of himself?

    But another thing is, how can anybody pick apart something you say if you haven’t actually said anything?

    And this aversion to giving away too many specific details is why I’m thinking Trump may not announce his VP pick until the very last minute of the convention. It has to do with this “pandering” thing. Think about it: who is he worried about thinking that picking a woman or minority as his running-mate would be “pandering”?

    His base!

    The people who are attracted to him because he doesn’t play the “politically correct” game! By not picking a “politically correct” VP, he is pandering to those people who, while so loyal they might even vote for him if he shoots down some stranger on Fifth Avenue, might start falling away if they actually see him give concrete details of how he would run the country — for example, showing him picking an “insider” who actually knows how to do the job, despite making his appeal to the rubes on the grounds that he himself doesn’t know Jack Shit.

    So far, his campaign has been successful because it’s been running on hot air, but just as soon as he actually does something, like announce his VP pick, the campaign starts getting real substance, which means it gets harder and harder for people to see in his campaign what they have wanted to see. His crusade just might lose its beguiling “incredibility”.

    Come to think of it, from the beginning, it’s all been a question of incredibility. From the New York TImes:

    “We have had tremendous support of almost everybody, and even if you look at Congress, the support has been incredible,” Mr. Trump said.

    It is! Literally! In fact, if he wins, he will make an incredible president!

    So it’s coming down to a contest between those Americans who want an “incredible” president, and those of us who want a “credible” one.


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