Every day it seems the Trump campaign looks like the answer to this question: What would it be like if an 8-year-old boy ran for president? Case in point: the news today that Trump has effectively demoted campaign chairman Paul Manafort and brought on Stephen Bannon, who runs the conservative news and Trump cheerleading website Breitbart.com, and made Kellyanne Conway, a GOP pollster, his campaign manager.
The reason for the change is not that Trump thinks Manafort is doing a poor job, but rather that the GOP nominee feels — and I’m not making this up — too constrained by him. According to a report in the Washington Post, “While Trump respects Manafort . . . he has grown to feel ‘boxed in’ and ‘controlled’ by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.”
Boxed in and controlled? The politician who in the last few weeks and months has attacked the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq, called President Obama the “founder of ISIS,” talked about “Second Amendment” solutions to Hillary Clinton appointing judges to the Supreme Court, who has delivered two major policy speeches on terrorism and the economy, neither of which bore much of any relation to reality — this candidate feels as though he can’t really express himself on the campaign trail?
Rather than act like a real politician or even an adult, Trump seems to want to exercise his id in any way he sees fit, consequences be damned. None of this is to suggest that Manafort was any great shakes as the campaign chief, but at times it appeared that he at least tried to keep Trump’s worst impulses in check. Now there is no one in the Trump camp who seems willing to take on that thankless job.
If anything, Trump’s new hires are likely to egg him on. Bannon, who has no experience working on any kind of campaign let alone a a presidential effort, has been a loud validator of Trump’s harshest and most politically unhelpful attacks. It was Breitbart, after all, that ran a series of pieces sordidly attacking Khizr Khan and alleging ties between him and the Muslim Brotherhood. Breitbart is also the news organization that had one of its reporters, Michelle Fields, grabbed and pushed by Trump’s previous campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — and responded by publishing an article accusing Fields of lying about what happened and defending Lewandoswki.
Breitbart has also run numerous articles on Bill Clinton’s sex life and false allegations that Hillary Clinton is suffering serious health issues. It’s probably only a matter of time before Trump starts trafficking in these arguments. We’re also likely to see more attacks on the media, more made-up claims about a rigged election, and an even harsher, more conspiratorial tone coming from the Trump camp.
So one can expect this already ugly presidential campaign to take an even uglier turn. Rather than the pivot that so many Republican politicians and pundits hoped or believed that Trump would make, the actual Trump shift appears to be a move deeper into the political sewer. If you thought 2016 has been the nastiest campaign you’ve ever seen, just wait. It’s about to get worse.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.