Donald Trump has not even officially assumed the title as Republican nominee for president and already his campaign isn’t even bothering to hide that it’s tearing itself in two. Specifically, this past weekend, Paul Manafort, the longtime GOP dementor brought on by Trump to give his campaign an air of professionalism—or aides loyal to him—used MSNBC as a vessel to spark a revolt within the campaign.
Donald Trump is a candidate without a campaign – and it’s becoming a serious problem.
Republicans working to elect Trump describe a bare-bones effort debilitated by infighting, a lack of staff to carry out basic functions, minimal coordination with allies and a message that’s prisoner to Trump’s momentary whims.
“Bottom line, you can hire all the top people in the world, but to what end? Trump does what he wants,” a source close to the campaign said.
In reporting on Trump’s operation, NBC News talked to three Trump aides and two sources working closely alongside the campaign, all of whom requested anonymity in order speak freely.
Veteran operatives are shocked by the campaign’s failure to fill key roles. There is no communications team to deal with the hundreds of media outlets covering the race, no rapid response director to quickly rebut attacks and launch new ones, and a limited cast of surrogates who lack a cohesive message.
You don’t need to be James Carville to read between the lines and suss out who is using cable’s evil liberal network to legislate the Trump campaign’s infighting. “Republicans working to elect Trump” and “veteran operatives” make it fairly obvious that MSNBC’s sources are from the group of establishment folk that have insinuated themselves into the Trump campaign in hopes they can wrest it away from rogues like Corey Lewandowski, and thus bridge the gap between Trump and the actual institutions of the Republican party.
What’s interesting is just how open both MSNBC and its mutinous sources are being with regards to this arrangement. Last Friday afternoon, in a segment on Hardball With Chris Matthews, Katy Tur talked through what was essentially a rough draft of this article. But, perhaps because she was speaking off the cuff without the vetting of an editor, she made it a bit more clear who her sources were than journalists usually do. Here’s a clip and transcription of her appearance:
[There was a video here]
The problem that they’re having behind the scenes in the campaign from the sources that I’m talking to is that there’s infighting. There’s not a cohesive message because the campaign itself is not cohesive. They still have this battle line drawn between Paul Manafort—I know this is a bit inside baseball for our viewers—but Paul Manfort, who was brought into run the convention and is head of strategic operations, and Corey Lewandowski, who is the campaign manager.
Manafort stays behind. He’s in D.C., he’s in New York, he’s trying to come up with a strategy for the campaign. Corey Lewandowski travels with Donald Trump. He’s constantly with him. He’s a firewall essentially between strategy and his candidate.
So when Manfort sends over ideas, press releases, and “Hey, we have these endorsements from vets, we have these endorsements from female CEOs, we have these endorsements from Latino farmers,” they’re not getting to the candidate, I’m told, because Corey Lewandowski is trying to control the message.
These words read as if they were spoken by Paul Manafort himself, or at least someone who works closely with him. That Paul Manafort’s press releases are ignored is urgent news if you happen to be Paul Manafort. Similarly, the passion with which Tur delivered these words could only be matched by someone with an actual stake in the future of the Donald Trump campaign.
Corey Lewandowski—and Katrina Pierson and Hope Hicks—obviously have little incentive for the Trump campaign to alter its structure. Any calls to do so must be coming from other sources. This sort of gossip-peddling is baked into political reporting and, for those of us that care about such things, can offer insights into the inner workings of campaigns. But rarely do you see the symbiotic relationship between the press and its subjects laid out this openly.
The good thing—again, for those of us who care about intra-campaign drama—is that the Trump campaign is almost certainly going to leak gossip at an unprecedented rate. It’s going to be an oil boom for anonymously sourced reports, and the well has already been tapped.
Yesterday, Bloomberg ran a story that quoted extensively from a private call Donald Trump conducted with high-level surrogates like ex-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and ex-Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Even moreso than the MSNBC report, this one portrayed Trump’s campaign as utterly disorganized and at the mercy of the candidate’s momentary whims.
When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.
“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said.
Told the memo was sent by Erica Freeman, a staffer who circulates information to surrogates, Trump said he didn’t know her. He openly questioned how the campaign could defend itself if supporters weren’t allowed to talk.
“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”
Normally, stuff like this doesn’t leak out until a campaign is over. Even staffers with opposing strategic views are able to put the unified goals of the campaign ahead of the personal point scoring that can be tallied up by leaking to the press. Even when Sarah Palin was drafted into the John McCain campaign—which is perhaps the closest analogue to the type of shotgun wedding the Republican party at-large is attempting to consummate with Trump—the worst shit didn’t get leaked out until McCain’s presidential bid was dead and buried.
This sort of election season quid pro quo between sources and journalists—I’ll air out all of my campaign’s dirty laundry, as long as you don’t print it until next year—is the exact sort of arrangement that helped Mark Halperin and John Heilmann, authors of the lionized campaign gossip tome Game Change, command seven-figure salaries from Bloomberg. But they didn’t write the damning story of Trump’s panicked conference call. If this pace keeps up, what’s going to be left for the book on the 2016 election?