CJ Mayer: Who is Trump's team, really?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - 6:41pm

“And you have to be smarter than they are. I hear so many times, ‘Oh, I want my people to be smarter than I am.’ It’s a lot of crap. You want to be smarter than your people, if possible.” — Donald Trump (2007)

Throughout the election, you’ve heard the same argument when discussing Trump, his policy and how he’ll improve the country: He’s got the best guys and he’ll listen. Not only is this argument incredibly flawed, it’s just plain wrong. If this is the default response in policy debates from Trump supporters, there’s no point in having in-depth debates without first dissecting this logic.

First, what if Trump did have the best advisers? Is that enough to make him a good world leader? Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. Contrary to what you’ll hear from either side, many policy issues are outstandingly complicated with no single clear-cut decision to be made. Experts in everything from economics to education, even though they know their topic more than anyone else in the world, still disagree with one another. It’s up to the president to take their factual arguments and disseminate them. Sitting in the dark residential office 'til the sun rises, pouring over endless pages, wrestling with arguments that could lead to death of American soldiers or lead to poverty for millions and deciding what is best for the American people — that is the president’s job. It’s why a president’s judgments and policy opinions matter and why simply listening to advisers is not enough to lead the free world.

Now let’s bring attention to his advisers, and let’s start with Roger Ailes, the man preparing Trump for his debates. He spent his past two decades creating, leading and turning Fox News into the right-wing bastion that it is now. Why’d he leave his successful time at Fox? More than 20 people, ranging from hosts like Gretchen Carlson and stars like Megyn Kelly to employees like booker Laurie Luhn, have all come forward and accused Ailes of sexual harassment. Ailes started advising Trump after these accusations.

Take Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first (and now fired) campaign manager who has re-emerged as one of his closest confidants. Lewandowski was the force behind the “let Trump be Trump” movement and encouraged him to never apologize and to attack the Gold Star Khan family. Trump initially defended Lewandowski after he faced charges for battery of a female reporter.

That’s not where the story ends. There’s so much division in the campaign that following Lewandowski’s firing, adviser Michael Caputo tweeted out “Ding dong the witch is dead!” (for which Caputo resigned the same day) and former state director Jim Baker texted Lewandowski, mocking him. Still think Trump hires the best guys and can run the United States, even though his campaign looks like a disaster?

Campaign chair Paul Manafort became the No. 1 guy following Lewandowski. We’ll skip his controversial comments and go straight to his deal with Russia. Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin puppet running for prime minister in Ukraine in 2005, hired Manafort to help repair his image after the Orange Revolution, a mass protest in Ukraine after it became known that Yanukovych had rigged the election. Then The New York Times revealed that hidden in a secret ledger in Ukraine was $12.7 million listed for Manafort. Experts are unclear as to whether he still advises in Ukraine. To recap: The man in charge of Trump’s campaign helped a Russian puppet dictator after rigging a democratic election and was paid secretly upward of $12 million to do so. Manafort was finally fired after The Times' story.

Can we top that? Trump’s newest leader, campaign CEO Steve Bannon, is the former head of far-right (and I mean far-right) Breitbart News. Under Bannon, Breitbart News authored articles such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” to “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.” Former Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella said of Bannon: “He made more off-color comments about minorities and homosexuals than I can recount,” and that if you were on their Brietbart News's conference calls, it sounded “like a white supremacist rally.”

This is all to contrast with Clinton, who has had a stable inner-circle since 2015, led by young, Democratic superstar campaign manager Robby Mook, who is known for “an aversion to the spotlight and an interest in data.” She has a team filled with veterans, including her chief strategist and pollster, and one of Obama’s closest allies, Joel Benenson. One of the four corner offices in her headquarters belongs to Elan Kriegel, Clinton’s "invisible guiding hand," an analytic genius who has stayed completely out of the spotlight — his full name had not been tweeted since October 2015 when a Politico Magazine profile was published about him in early September.

Republicans, as noted in the Politico piece, are terrified that Trump’s campaign team is so lacking of talent that the next generation of Republican campaign operatives is nonexistent. Clinton’s campaign is very far from perfect, but her advisers are of the highest caliber and she trusts them enough to keep them through difficult times. Her campaign is competent.

And then there’s Trump — Lewandowski, Manafort and now Bannon at the helm. Firings left and right. Disaster and division within the ranks, from cheering a firing to calling for a literal firing squad. A head spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, whose penchant for lying and ignoring facts can stack up pound to pound with anyone on TV. A campaign in such constant disarray that the only people he truly listens to are his own children.

His closest ally in the Senate, Jeff Sessions, is most famous for joking about the KKK. According to a testimony by Thomas Figures, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama at the time, “Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he ‘used to think they (the Klan) were OK’ until he found out some of them were ‘pot smokers.’ ” His team of economic advisers just happen to be some of his biggest donors. When asked about who he consults concerning foreign policy on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” 

What about his campaign screams this guy can govern? The Republican National Convention, completely controllable by Trump’s campaign, is a free, four-day, nationally covered commercial. How’d he do in running that great opportunity? It was arguably the worst convention in political history. For the first time ever, people were less likely to vote for the candidate following the convention.

This is the worst campaign in American history. This was Trump’s test, and he failed. Politics isn’t business, and his talents clearly do not translate. He doesn’t have the skills or the people to competently operate in the political arena, and he would make a disastrous president of unknown proportions.

CJ Mayer can be reached at mayercj@umich.edu.