WASHINGTON ― Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, has had success dealing with hard-to-manage dictatorial types, from Imelda Marcos of the Philippines to Jonas Savimbi of Angola to Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine.
But he is described by close friends as “frustrated” beyond measure by his inability to manage Trump in any sense.
Reince Priebus, the pliable chair of the Republican National Committee, went to extraordinary lengths to legitimize Trump ― but now the RNC is throwing up its hands and distancing itself.
Even longtime Trump friends ― he does have a few, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ― are shaking their heads at what they regard as his self-destructive knack for saying awful things at the worst times.
And insiders say Trump’s children ― said to be a moderating influence at times ― have neither the political knowledge nor the clout with their dad to restrain him, assuming that they indeed want to.
In all, the world of Republican operatives, insiders and elected officials has concluded ― rather too late in the game ― that Trump is an unmanageable mess who can only win the presidency if Julian Assange, Vladimir Putin or a prosecutor somewhere destroys Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“This election is going to be decided by outside events,” said a patient but perhaps overly optimistic Trump adviser. “If, that is, we can figure out how to get the candidate to use them.”
In a text to The Huffington Post, Manafort flatly denied the essence of a tweet by respected CNBC and New York Times reporter John Harwood saying Manafort had given up on the campaign, and said campaign spokesman Jason Miller would soon release a statement. Miller, a few minutes later, tweeted:
But Manafort’s friends and allies confirmed that he is “frustrated” by Trump’s refusal to seek advice ― or listen to it if offered ― as he sends out cascades of disastrous tweets and Facebook posts.
“The problem is that Trump watches TV every minute that he isn’t actually on his phone, either talking or tweeting,” said one adviser. “And then he gets angry at what he sees on TV and reacts.
“But I don’t think Manafort will quit,” the adviser said. “He’s come too far for too long in this business to stop now, no matter how frustrating. There is nothing Paul can do.”
Another member of Manafort’s circle described Trump in unflattering terms and said that while Manafort is there for the duration, he is counting the days.
In effect, Manafort’s allies are distancing their friend from the mess he is part of.
The same distancing is going on at the RNC.
Priebus’ response to Trump’s feud with the Khan family, for example, was to state on CNN: “I think this family should be off limits.”
And Tuesday, in response to a HuffPost query about Trump’s statements questioning the legitimacy of the country’s elections, the committee suggested posing the question to Trump’s campaign, instead. “I would ask the campaign to clarify what they mean,” said RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Trump’s post-convention bender has put his party leadership in a nearly impossible situation. For weeks before Cleveland, Republican National Committee officials pushed the idea that Trump would unify the party at the convention and come out ready to take on Clinton.
But after a rocky convention that included a prime-time speech from a rival who refused to endorse Trump and his own wife’s plagiarized remarks, party officials were privately explaining the difficulties in dealing with their nominee.
Trump does not take well to criticism, one official said, so any critique has to be prefaced with lavish praise ― as if dealing with a child.
One RNC member told HuffPost on condition of anonymity that Priebus routinely tells members that he frequently must “talk Trump down from a ledge,” and that the campaign would be in even worse shape if he didn’t.
Another RNC member could only offer: “What do you want us to say?”