The problem with narratives about Donald Trump is that we never have any idea which of them is true until after some kind of major damage has been done; we can then look back and see what his motivations were in taking a particular action (or not taking one), or in his interactions with certain people, or really almost anything. And the reason for that is simple — he has no moral or political center.
There is no analysis that points at Trump’s actions as having been predictable in any way other than to say “he will say something self-aggrandizing” or “he will continue to be racist.” Only past behavior can inform predictions of future behavior, but Trump, being directionless except “up,” doesn’t fit that axiom.
The same thing cannot be said about most politicians, and that’s what most Trump supporters will tell you they like about their President — that he’s not like most politicians. True to form, the things he’s done that are unprecedented, his supporters are unfazed by: They have celebrated his hypocrisy and “rules for thee, not me” attitude; they have poo-pooed serious and credible allegations of abuse by Trump against women, employees, and even family; they continue to willfully ignore the blatant obstruction of justice he commits regularly.
He’s basically the anti-John McCain.
With a long-form piece out in the Atlantic about McCain’s refusal to allow Paul Manafort, who would later on become Trump’s campaign manager and even later on become a convicted felon, to run the 2008 Republican National Convention — the show at which the Arizona Senator was the star — a picture begins to take shape around how a man like Manafort might have connected McCain and Trump long before The Donald famously insulted the Vietnam veteran’s military service.
Manafort, you see, was the business partner of a man named Rick Davis — who ran McCain’s presidential campaign. And we’re not talking about a couple of deals they did together, this was a lobbying firm literally called Davis Manafort, and both men had been stout loyalists to McCain.
Until John McCain told them they needed to cut their unsavory ties with Russia if they wanted to continue to work in and earn favor in Washington, D.C.
Manafort, as we all now know, did not even remotely cut ties with Russia. In fact, he strengthened them and used them to get himself a job on another high profile campaign.
Trump may have thought with their prior association that McCain would be an ally of Manafort’s and by extension, of his own. But Manafort pretty famously holds grudges, and no doubt took the Senator’s slight from 2008 as baggage with him into 2015 and 2016, even perhaps whispering against McCain early enough in the campaign process that Donald Trump would take a chance on insulting a bona fide war hero on the campaign trail.
But an affront to one of Trump’s underlings would surely not offend the future American despot enough to risk significant political capital with veterans and military supporters by dissing John McCain over his POW status. Trump’s deep ties to Russia would of course put him at odds with a lawmaker whose passion was for democracy, not for power grabs.
And McCain’s dedication to the rule of law is what drove him to former FBI Director James Comey’s office on December 9, 2016, to personally hand-deliver a pretty important document to the man Trump would fire over it exactly 5 months later to the very day: The famed Steele Dossier. John McCain handed that file to the FBI himself.
It’s likely the reason Trump did not attend McCain’s funeral — he is, perhaps, haunted by that moment.
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