The proposition that Donald Trump will serve as a competent commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chief executive of the federal government is founded in his voters’ credulity. Among the more compelling of the various rationales that lead reluctant Trump supporters to convince themselves it’ll all be okay in the end is the notion that the reality television star is also a successful businessman with a knack for talent acquisition. Though he routinely brags that he will “hire the best people,” the Trump campaign is routinely at war with itself, and its members are often undercut in public by their boss.
The Trump campaign has been struggling to cope with an identity crisis since the early spring when the real estate developer began to win the support of more establishmentarian Republicans. To hasten the end of the primary process and to accelerate the GOP’s acquiescence to his hostile takeover of the party, the Trump campaign began to flirt with the prospect of evolving into something more “presidential.” No sooner were those revelations leaked to the press than did the candidate himself come out and insist that he could not and would not ever grow up.
The end of the GOP primary process has yielded renewed competence and cohesion within the Trump campaign. It should be clear now that this confusion and resulting infighting among Trump staffers is a permanent feature of a campaign built around a mercurial candidate without a coherent policy platform. Trump backers in elected office are unable to adequately represent their candidate for the same reason his campaign staff finds the task a difficult one: Trump is a man of caprice and whimsy. There is no Trump platform; it varies from hour to hour. What’s more, those Trump staffers or surrogates who presume to speak for their boss often find that the boss only speaks for himself.
Take, for example, Paul Manafort. The Trump campaign’s most senior operative told the Huffington Post on Thursday that the reality star has no intention of vetting a woman or a minority as a possible vice presidential pick because “that would be viewed as pandering, I think.” That’s not true, according to Donald Trump himself. When asked about these comments at a press conference in North Dakota on Thursday, Trump said he would absolutely consider a woman or a minority for the role of vice president.
This episode was not unique. Ben Carson, a Trump surrogate and the man originally tapped to spearhead the VP vetting process, told the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in early May that Trump may consider a Democrat for the vice presidential pick. That revelation came just minutes after Trump appeared on Fox News Channel where he explicitly ruled out that idea. Reports indicate that Carson was soon sidelined in favor of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
While that move was reported as though it were a new burden on Trump’s campaign manager, Lewandowski’s portfolio of responsibilities had only been growing lighter and lighter. “They sort of have to figure out what Corey’s role is,” said one unnamed campaign operative ahead of the New York primary after the campaign took on Manafort and former Scott Walker campaign veteran Rick Wiley. By early April, the scandal-plagued Lewandowski found his responsibilities becoming fewer and fewer as part of the Trump campaign’s effort to show a new and more mature side.
A lack of clear definition between Manafort and Lewandowski’s roles soon led to an all-out civil war within the campaign. “According to Politico, enemies of Lewandowski have dug into his personal life and circulated news reports about the campaign manager,” Vanity Fair reported. “His own supporters, meanwhile, have reportedly urged Trump to dig into [Manafort’s] personal life and previous lobbying work for a host of unsavory clients — including dictators — that could prove to be problematic.” Meanwhile, Manafort ally Wiley, who was brought aboard the Trump Train mid-March, was fired on Thursday for reportedly running afoul of Lewandowski’s loyalists within the campaign. Plugged-in Politico journalists Kenneth Vogel and Marc Caputo reported that Wiley’s conflicts with Lewandowski hire and Florida-based regional political director for the Trump campaign Karen Giorno led to his abrupt dismissal and that it was Trump himself who pulled the trigger. Politico’s sources said that the unanticipated campaign downsizing was necessary because Trump is “loyal” to his team.
And Lewandowski requires of his employers quite a bit of loyalty. “Donald Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski were seen having a public screaming match on the street in Manhattan on Wednesday night,” reported New York Post gossip columnist Emily Smith. You don’t often expect to find the members of a presidential campaign become the story themselves, much less one that is placed on the Post’s famous Page Six.
While some speculated that the pair’s public disagreement was personal in nature, the Post’s sources insisted that the fight was “a campaign-related” dispute. “They were arguing how the announcement about Manafort taking more responsibility would be handled,” one of Smith’s informants said. “There is an internal struggle to define what Corey’s role would be.” As Hicks is occupied with sorting out internal campaign conflicts, the Trump campaign’s new face on cable news has become a running joke for representing the presumptive GOP nominee in a comically inept manner.
And all the while, Donald Trump presides over this controlled chaos, watching from Olympus as his aides vie for his attention and a more prominent role within the organization. For someone who is so frequently touted by his supporters as a masterful manager, he is running his campaign like a miniature version of the “Hunger Games.” In a campaign, this is compelling – even entertaining. As the executive of a federal workforce of 2.7 million, many of whom work for sclerotic bureaucracies and all of whom compete with one another for funding, this managerial style would be disastrous.
If the Trump campaign is typified by one feature, it is unrealized promise. “Make America great again,” he says. Just don’t ask how; all will be revealed when he is elected to the presidency. Well, the idea that the American public should cast their ballots on the hope that Trump will meet his self-set expectations is undermined by his own campaign. Will Trump “hire the best people” and act as a “great manager?” One need only look at his organization to see how the celebrity candidate’s other promises might play out.