What Manafort's Past Says About Trump's Present

If we can agree on one thing about Republican Nominee Donald Trump, it’s that he likes winners. So in April, when it became clear that his unorthodox campaign was going to need some establishment assistance, he reached for the top shelf, selecting Paul Manafort — a man who advised Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush on their campaigns — as his guy. While normally, we focus more on those running for office, not those running the campaigns, recent revelations about Manafort's reported Ukrainian political ties are worth examining.

This week, The New York Times reported that Manafort was named in an investigation in Ukraine as possibly having received illicit payments during his time there working to repair and rebuild the reputation of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian politician whose attempt to steal an election led to the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych is also a Vladimir Putin ally. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of any payments. However, the connection between his pro-Putin client from the last decade and his current seemingly Putin-friendly client (Trump) is raising flags.

But what concerns me is less any wrongdoing that Manafort may or may not have done ten years ago in the Ukraine. What’s more alarming is what Trump’s selection of Manafort says about Trump — and the election at large.

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Yanukovych was not Manafort’s first high-profile morally checkered client. In the 1980s, Manafort helped rehab the image of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, as noted in a Politico report. His consulting firm, Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, helped a number of unsavory (to put it mildly) figures, including Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

I’m not trying to suggest that Trump’s choice of campaign manager indicates a validation of the deeds of Manafort’s clients, but it does underscore the troubling idea that if you have enough money, you can hire a high-powered lobbyist to makeover your image. The outlandish audacity of Manafort’s enterprise is perhaps best captured by a series of Doonesbury comics where Uncle Duke is sent to rehab the image of a dictator in the fictional country of Berzerkistan.

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I don’t want to be seen as trying to paint Trump and Manafort with the exact same brush. However, there is an eerie undertone of consequence-less-ness that runs through both men’s histories. Trump even seems to be setting the stage to deflect blame, should he end up losing the election. But it’s key for us to remember that actions have consequences, and that forgiving and forgetting are two very different things.