By Heath Brown
For much of this presidential campaign, Donald Trump (R) has been dismissed as an nonserious performer, capable of drawing large crowds and attention, but not much more. Seemingly unaware of many policy details and unwilling to name who has shaped his view on key issues, what a Trump administration would actually look like has remained a mystery.
That mystery may have just been solved. After a stinging defeat in the Wisconsin primary, Trump elevated Paul Manafort's role on his campaign to oversee the GOP convention delegate process. The choice of Manafort signals not just a change in direction for the campaign, but also gives a strong indication of what a Trump White House might look like.
Manafort is a seasoned Washington insider, operating at the intersection of money, politics and influence for the last four decades. How Manafort rose to prominence suggests several important, yet largely underappreciated, aspects of electing a new president.
After Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Manafort was named coordinator of personnel during Reagan's transition to power. The presidential transition period — often eclipsed by the attention paid to the campaign — occurs over 77 days between Election Day and the inauguration in January. It is during this period that hundreds of critical decisions are made about public policy and who will be appointed to join the new president in the White House and in the Cabinet.
For Reagan, personnel decisions were no trivial matter. Reagan's team adhered to the mantra that "personnel is policy" to emphasize how important it was to have a team of ideological loyalists to implement his agenda. Manafort helped Reagan appoint an array of conservative stalwarts across government, hundreds drawn from the new brain centers of the conservative movement: the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution. Many were brand new to Washington, arriving in Washington, D.C. from California after decades of loyalty to Reagan.
Yet when the transition period ended, Manafort didn't follow others in the conservative movement into the Reagan administration. Instead, Manafort and his partners on the transition team, Roger Stone and Charlie Black, opted to start their own lobbying firm. Manafort traded on his service to a newly elected president not with a job in the White House, but by peddling influence in the then-burgeoning field of high-priced lobbying.
To be sure, Manfort was not the first to lay the foundation of a lucrative future on K Street during a presidential transition. Twenty years earlier, Clark Clifford helped John Kennedy transition from candidate to president, but did not later join the Kennedy administration. Instead, Kennedy joked that "all he asked in return was that we advertise his law firm on the backs of one-dollar bills."
Fifty years later, Trump's choice of Manafort suggests several things...
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