June 20, 2016
Corey Lewandowski is no more. After a tempestuous year in the upper reaches of the Trump campaign organization, he was forcibly ejected from service today. While he helped an electoral novice to the top of the polls last fall, and was at least part of the brains behind his mega rallies, Lewandowski was on borrowed time.
For months, various staffers bristled at his heavy-handed methods. Corey was not a charmer with the campaign staff. His altercation with reporter Michelle Fields in March cast an unwelcome spotlight on his activities. Within minutes of joining the campaign, veteran operative Paul Manafort was trying to eliminate Lewandowski. At first he didn’t succeed, but he tried and tried again.
Whatever his flaws, Trump is normally resolutely loyal, and likes making sure everyone knows it. When the Fields controversy took hold, Trump repeatedly said he was standing behind his guy, and that it wasn’t fair to ruin the career of someone with a family over unsubstantiated allegations. Presumably, being terminated now is less of a stain.
For many weeks, we’ve heard a constant stream of stories about a dysfunctional campaign at war with itself. The Lewandowskis against the Manaforts. Now that conflict is gone. A few of the original members of Team Corey left within a few days of Manafort’s arrival. Any remaining stalwarts will exit or get excised in the next couple/few days.
Manafort and his minions are more user-friendly for the media and convention delegates, the two constituencies Trump needs to worry most about right now. Though The Donald is publicly dismissive of a convention revolt, betting markets now only have him at a 86% chance of securing the nomination he already clinched. Whether you believe that number is reasonable or not, there’s some money being placed against him now.
When Trump lost Wisconsin in early April, the campaign spent a solid week “reevaluating” with the help of Manafort. Trump came back from his travels, hunkered down at Trump Tower, and created a new story, one of the many false starts in the ongoing project to get him to pivot in the direction of sounding like a quarter normal candidate.
His recent polling numbers are the equivalent of losing an important primary. One consistent aspect of the Trump campaign is treating polling like actual voting. At one point, observers dismissed the numbers, because they were rarely predictive that far out in previous contests. When the Trump voters actually showed up for their respective primaries, resistance to treating survey numbers as an actual reality vanished.
When his polls are good, we hear how Hillary could easily lose and wayward Republicans rally around their presumptive nominee. When voters begin to lose faith, so do party insiders, who suddenly become very interested in making alternatives happen. Between Wisconsin on April 5 and New York on April 19, the campaign was able to pull off some sort of metamorphosis.
A moderated media approach combined with a huge home state win turned a shaky, spiraling front runner, who was likely to fall short of the needed delegates into an almost unstoppable winner. Trump, Manafort, & Associates, would like to repeat this feat between now and the convention.
But as we’re constantly reminded, the general election is not the primary. While Trump won New York handily in April, he’s operating at a 20 point deficit there for November. Just at the time where he seemed most vulnerable, several Eastern states got to evaluate him against Ted Cruz. By the time Indiana voted on May 3, Trump’s opponents were discredited.
There’s no similar trap for Hillary Clinton over the next couple of weeks. There’s no equivalent to John Kasich, someone to mock for staying in the race despite losing everywhere outside his home state. He’s still fighting with various Republicans. Attacking the Bush family worked in the primary. It signaled Trump was breaking with the status quo. He only needed a plurality of GOP primary voters to win the nomination.
Now he needs all Republicans. For all his talk about being able to win the election with or without the support of people like Paul Ryan, the math doesn’t work if Ryan’s biggest fans stay home or pick a non-Trump option (Clinton, Gary Johnson, whomever.) Trump can claim if the GOP doesn’t get behind him, he’ll just self-fund like he originally planned to, and the RNC will miss out on his money hauling capabilities. That doesn’t mean skeptical voters will believe a single word.
If Manafort has any ability to get Trump to moderate himself in any way whatsoever, we’ll see it over the next couple of weeks. Lewandowski definitely spoke to the unplugged version of The Donald. Manafort is the one constantly assuring donors and insiders that Trump realizes he needs to mellow a bit. Without the opposing force, there’s no excuse now.
Ditching Corey is a nice distraction for a couple of days, a convenient scapegoat for Trump’s plummeting numbers. We’ll find out very soon if going down this road only worked in the primary season, or if the campaign is actually capable of adjusting.