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Manafort? Are you Kidding?

The new chief in the Trumpster’s campaign is Paul Manafort. This move is so funny, so sad, so predictable in so many ways that it’s as hard to get your head around it as it is to make sense of the whole Trump fantasy train ride.

The guy is Establishment, serious ESTABLISHEMENT — an Insider, a Washington power broker, a Lobbyist, fer chrissake. He’s been around since Reagan and has advised every Republican candidate since including both Bushes, Dole and McCain.

The Donald has been running on the full-bore, locked and loaded, anti-establishment band wagon and now, when he weirdly and unexpectedly is confronted with a pure crisis moment (he could win!), he turns to a character whose insider-cred qualities have made him a legend in DC.

The transition from Cory Lewandowsky to Manafort is, not surprisingly, not going exactly smoothly — but that’s to be expected and beside the point. What’s really interesting here is the naked hypocrisy of Trump. As most observers have concluded, it’s an adolescent narcissism that drives him. He gets a kick out of the adulation, the chanting of his name at rallies and revels in the angry, ineffective rebuttals from his opponents, Priebus’s people at the RNC and a freaked-out press.

Trump entered this little farrago on a post-adolescent ego trip whose aim was the promotion of the brand name. Now he’s confronted with an accidental, horrific reality: he could win the whole damn thing. He could actually become the POTUS.

To do so he has to shed Lewandowsky and distance himself from the rabble that got him where he is. He needs to embrace the insiders he professes to hate. He has to bring on board exactly the people whom he has been railing against.

So we have Paul Manafort who, as they say, is a “piece of work.” This is a political operative who suckled at Lee Atwater’s teat, embraced Roveian political strategy, who sells his services to the highest bidder including, notoriously, Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine. Manafort is basically a political mercenary whose firm’s moral compass has an unerring attraction to conservatives with connections and money.

How it works out is yet to be seen. Manafort may turn out not to be most astute of operatives. His first move was to try to make Trump appear more “presidential.” He floated the balloon that the Trump we’ve been seeing to date, the one who has been drawing the crowds and amassing the votes and stockpiling delegates, is a fraud, just an actor playing a part.

“There are two Donald Trumps,” he said, echoing a sentiment offered by Ben Carson in his less-than-enthusiastic endorsement. “Now we will see the other personality, the presidential one.”

Perhaps in the days to come we will hear no more about crazy walls built with magical Mexican money, or the delusional plans to deport millions of immigrants, no more ridiculous schemes to bar any and all Muslims. No more insanity, just a Dole-like, leaderly calm voice.

It’s far from clear how this is going to sit with his base — even if Manafort manages to rein in his client. They like the red-meat lunatic they’ve got and they’re not going to be happy being told that it’s all been a charade, that The Donald has just been playing a role, that he’s really a part of the hated establishment.

It’s not my place to tell Manafort how to do his job but I think a better strategy would be to use the social media to leak the opposite message to Trump’s supporters. Tell them that he’s now going to embark on a fake campaign pretending to be reasonable to trick the Establishment rubes into supporting him.

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