Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, had a message to deliver.
“Hillary Clinton is the epitome of the establishment; she’s been in power for 25 years,” he informed Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday.
When Trump, Manafort added, “says he’s going to bring real change to the country, voters believe him — unlike Mrs. Clinton, who has been saying that for 25 years and in those 25 years, the only changes that have happened have made people’s lives worse.”
But then, Manafort slipped when discussing evangelical Christians’ support for Trump. “In my 40 years in politics, I have never seen such a broad-based base of support within that community for one candidate.”
Forty years in politics? But it’s Clinton’s 25 years that make her the “establishment”?
If that weren’t enough, Manafort was giving the interview from the Hamptons — playground of the eastern elite.
This is the hypocrisy at the heart of the Trump campaign, now under Manafort’s undisputed control. Manafort’s inspiration, which Trump has embraced, is to portray Clinton as the embodiment of the establishment. But Manafort (not unlike Trump) has been the voice of the wealthy and the well-connected for four decades, building a fortune by making common cause with the world’s most avaricious.
Among Manafort’s boasts: representing kleptocrats Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, defending Saudi Arabia’s interests against Israel’s and Pakistan’s against India’s, and making the case for a Nigerian dictator, a Lebanese arms dealer and various and sundry Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He successfully lobbied to arm a Maoist rebel in Angola, needlessly extending fighting that killed thousands.
It’s Manafort’s right to represent dictators and thugs and regimes that torture. He has, for decades, helped autocrats who battle human rights and democracy. But now this man, who made his fortune helping the rich and powerful get more so, is setting up a general-election campaign that portrays Trump as a man of the people and Clinton as the captive of special interests.
Manafort has been a paragon of the Washington Republican establishment for two generations, working on Gerald Ford’s reelection in 1976 before helping Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. He started two lobbying firms, and he has used his contacts in attempts to enrich himself.
Manafort is steeped in the racial politics Trump has exploited. As Franklin Foer writes for Slate, Manafort ran Reagan’s Southern operation in 1980; the candidate kicked off his general-election campaign outside Philadelphia, Miss., scene of the murder of civil rights activists in 1964. Manafort later became a business partner of Lee Atwater, who gained fame for Bush’s Willie Horton campaign in 1988.
Introduced to Trump by Roy Cohn, lawyer to Joe McCarthy, Manafort helped Trump fight Indian casinos by alleging that the Native Americans had a crime problem; Trump and his associates paid a $250,000 fine after secretly funding advertisements besmirching the Indians.
Now Trump is engaged in a general-election campaign to portray Clinton as the candidate of the establishment. That’s fair enough: She has been atop the country’s elite for a quarter-century. But the man leading this effort spent a much longer career benefiting the wealthy and powerful, including Trump, at the expense of the poor and weak. That’s rich.
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Dana Milbank writes for the Washington Post. Paul Krugman is on vacation.