Manafort resigns. What the latest shake-up says about Trump.
Modes of thought
The resignation of Donald Trump's chief strategist is no surprise. But the reshuffling says something about the strengths and weaknesses of how Mr. Trump manages.
Donald Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort resigned Friday morning. The story of his departure might be titled “Chronicle of a Parting Easily Foretold.”
That’s largely because Mr. Manafort’s extensive consulting work for foreign leaders, some of them less than fully democratic, seemed full of possible problems from the beginning of his Trump tenure. Recent weeks have shown that to be the case: Manafort has been dogged by investigative reports detailing alleged questionable activities for the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine.
On Thursday the Associated Press reported that Manafort’s firm organized a covert lobbying push for that government. Neither Manafort nor his deputy Rick Gates disclosed these activities, as required under federal law, according to the AP. This might have finally convinced Manafort and/or Mr. Trump that a resignation might be in order.
“I am very appreciative for his great work in getting us where we are today,” said Trump in a statement on the move.
Manafort had also been effectively demoted by Trump’s appointment of a new top tier of aides earlier this week. Kellyanne Conway, a pollster Trump on Wednesday named campaign manager, and Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart news chief tapped as Trump’s executive chairman, both loomed over Manafort on the new Make America Great Again personnel chart.
Most restrained speech yet
Trump felt “hemmed in” by Manafort and others pushing him to act more presidential, according to news reports explaining the earlier campaign shake-up. However, on Thursday night Trump gave a speech widely described as his most restrained of the campaign. It included an apology for any personal hurt his words may have caused. That might indicate that it was the messenger – Manafort – more than the message that was causing Trump discomfort.
Will Manafort’s resignation matter? Well, Trump supporters probably won’t care. Staff shake-ups are the kind of thing that reporters hang on but voters don’t even notice.
But the departure does raise the larger question of why a business executive’s political campaign has run through top officials at a rapid clip, and has shown a high degree of organizational turmoil. After all, Manafort was himself a replacement, brought in to calm the staff and provide more experienced leadership in place of original campaign chief Corey Lewandowski. Trump’s now had three top management reshuffles in a calendar year, a high number even by the low standards of political management.
By contrast, the campaign of political professional Hillary Clinton has been a model of stability, at least in terms of staffing.
Trump revolving door
One reason is surely the influence of Trump’s family. Son-in-law Jared Kushner was reportedly wary of Manafort’s foreign connections. Mr. Kushner, a publisher married to Ivanka Trump, is a rising force in the Trump campaign.
Another cause might be the sort of businesses Trump is now in. It has been years since he was the head of a large organization that developed buildings and managed projects. Today, he is a reality television star and branding executive who lends his name – and management tips – to the projects of others.
In other words, it is possible that Trump has not had much recent practice managing lots of people in a multilevel organization. It may be taking him a while to figure out exactly what sort of person, or people, he wants and needs at the top of his campaign.
Thus it could be no accident that media people such as Kushner, Mr. Bannon, and Roger Ailes now have Trump’s ear. (Pollster Conway may be the exception to this rule.) Media is the business Trump now knows best, points out generally left-leaning Vox today.
“Trump isn’t really a businessman in the conventional sense anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. He’s a television star,” writes Vox’s Matthew Yglesias.
But the biggest reason that Trump has shuffled top managers may be the most obvious: There is only one honcho in the Trump campaign, and it is Trump himself. For better or worse, the mercurial Trump is in charge of almost all major strategic aspects of his presidential run. Everyone else should perhaps have “assistant” in front of their names.