Paul Manafort is way off base

No 'Gestapo Tactics' here

Paul Manafort accused the Ted Cruz campaign of "Gestapo tactics."

That's when Trump's delegate whiz appeared more than a week ago on Meet the Press. NBC's Chuck Todd had asked Manafort about his former business partner Roger Stone. A seasoned and tough operative, Stone had threatened to "disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in this deal," that is, the alleged plot to steal the nomination from Trump.

In vintage Trump mode, Manafort went on offense. But his over the top Nazi allusion, then defended by Trump talking heads, remains morally indefensible, as well as a tactical blunder. Moreover, it dispels the "good cop, bad cop" routine, respectively for him and Stone, a Trump confidante of political accomplishments but with no official campaign role. Manafort evidently believes his own clippings and forgets he is not the candidate. Ever since the Trump debacle in Wisconsin, Manafort has become a fixture on the media circuit. Normally the convention manager should be hunting delegates behind the scenes, so why the high profile?

Manafort is not exactly a household name. To properly send a signal to the Republican establishment and Washington insiders that he speaks for Trump, and to suitably enable his clout with delegates, Manafort had wisely introduced himself in the media as Trump's "go-to" guy who reports directly to "The Boss." Thus Manafort also conveniently eclipsed Trump's protégé, his once favored campaign manager. The in-your-face Corey Lewandowski ("Let Trump be Trump"), who had been relegated to a safe, undisclosed location, this weekend emerged on a Sunday talk show to show that he remains a force in the campaign. This was an expression of factionalism as Lewandowski tried to regain turf.

In this new normal, "dirty tricks" explain how Cruz swept Colorado's 34 delegates last weekend. In reality, Trump who prides himself in his mastery of detail before business negotiations, winged it on delegate protocols. Yet Trump justified that his children, Eric, 32 and Ivanka, 34 did not register to vote for him in the New York primary because, "They were unaware of the rules." Suppose Jeb Bush Jr. did not register to vote for his father, Trump would have quipped, "Like father, like son, low energy."

Trump cannot admit that the Cruz campaign has a superior organization. That's because Trump has often boasted that he runs his own campaign. It is efficient and cost-effective, the campaign CEO Trump proclaimed, the way he does business, the way he would run the country.

So Trump complains the Colorado outcome was "crooked and rigged." Manafort will file protests. But all this is for show. First, if Manafort were aboard early for Ted Cruz, he would have done what the Cruz people did. They planned ahead and recruited delegates. Second, Trump knows his Trump brand, and Manafort knows his Republican conventions. They need a common narrative to explain a contested convention and why they should prevail. And that's why Trump is in attack mode against Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee, to define the story in advance as "stealing" the nomination from him.

For now, the campaign also has opted for bravado. Exuding confidence to convince delegates of momentum -- and hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy, Manafort says it will be obvious by mid-May that Trump will be the presumptive nominee. A blow-out victory by Trump in today's New York primary will give Trump a campaign reset.

But the reality is that unless Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland wins or comes very close to the required 1,237 majority, he's unlikely to be the party's standard-bearer. This partly explains the resignation yesterday of Trump's field director, because he is a scapegoat for the failure of others, and Trump won't admit the buck stops with him, not with Lewandowski who Trump hired.

Fortunately for Trump, long ago his adversaries stupidly alluded to a brokered convention, a pejorative. Instead, they should have celebrated an open convention, the will of the people. More recently, Ted Cruz erred as the self-proclaimed Anti-Trump. Instead, Cruz should have defined his own populism. Cruz still can seize the high ground, providing the public rationale for delegates to switch to him.

That's what at stake here, not just maneuvering for delegates, but the story line. Cruz knows that many delegates are party regulars. Even before the first ballot where they will vote as pledged for Trump, they could still likely decide procedural matters to favor Cruz. What imagery does Cruz need to defend against Trump's charge of chicanery? Delegates need to express plausible disenchantment with Trump, to justify defection, that they were for Trump, or leaned to him, or were open to him, but...

In contrast, Trump needs to be presidential and talk policy, to give cover for his campaign's outreach to convention delegates. Although Trump's prepared speech at AIPAC was well received, Trump the next day still acted out, attacking Heidi Cruz. Manafort needs to control his volatile candidate, who has been self-destructive in public. That means an end to the personal attacks and juvenile tweets. It appears Trump and Manafort agreed to obsess, for the time being, on this narrative: The Establishment wants to steal the nomination from Trump. But that line only works if Trump comes across as a serious candidate with the long-promised statements of policy. It must be a two-tiered approach.

Manafort says the best way for Trump to get delegates is for them to hear what Trump says. Trump is a salesman. In conversations with some delegates, Trump could indeed close the deal.

Trump seems to be following some direction, because Manafort has convinced him that he, Manafort, is heavyweight, and Lewandowski was a lightweight. But internecine warfare in the campaign continues.

A week ago Manafort had Trump in rehab. But Trump is back.

This originally in westernjournalism.