The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump only hires the best people (at generating unhelpful headlines)

Former top Trump staffer Paul Manafort, surrounded by reporters at the convention in Cleveland. (Matt Rourke/AP)

When Donald Trump (sort of) ostracized longtime adviser Roger Stone last August, he made a commitment that has stuck with him ever since.

"I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people," he told our Robert Costa in a phone interview at the time. "We want top of the line professionals."

Stone, who now runs a pro-Trump PAC, "no longer serve[d] a useful function" for Trump's campaign. Moving forward, Trump said: "I really don’t want publicity seekers who want to be on magazines or who are out for themselves. This campaign is not about them."

That's not how it has worked out.

Top campaign aides to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton keep making headlines – for all of the wrong reasons. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

For whatever flaws Trump's campaign has, it is not helped by the fact that the people running it can't seem to stay out of the news. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that Trump's team spends lots of time talking to the media, just as their boss does. Another is that they've spent their lives doing things besides running political campaigns, occasionally offering a lot of fodder for journalists curious about who they are. A third is that Trump's top staff often does or says things that are unusual for people in their positions. The end result, not infrequently, is that instead of whatever message the campaign is trying to push, it often ends up talking about itself.

Trump's first campaign manager was Corey Lewandowski. In March, Lewandowski was accused of grabbing the arm of a reporter — an accusation that he (and Trump) denied until video evidence surfaced proving that it had happened.

The oddness of that incident is obscured a bit by now, thanks in part to the travails of Lewandowski's eventual replacement. Paul Manafort came on at the end of March, taking over for Lewandowski (albeit with a different title) in June. Manafort was a perpetual headline machine, thanks to his background lobbying for foreign governments. As the conventions came and went, Manafort's ties to the former president of Ukraine — and allegations of secret cash payments — kept drawing unwanted attention. After an Associated Press report alleging unreported lobbying by Manafort distracted from the campaign's efforts to reintroduce itself to voters, Trump fired him.

Manafort's replacement, Stephen Bannon, has only been in place for a few weeks but is himself already a focus of attention. The former head of Breitbart News, Bannon been active in conservative media circles for a long time and has a lengthy track record of saying controversial things. In just the past few days, Bannon has generated headlines about alleged sexual harassment, a domestic violence incident, his use of a homophobic slur, alleged anti-Semitism and firing a disabled woman on maternity leave.

That's just the people at the top of Trump's campaign. His campaign spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, has a habit of making headlines, too — and not for her effective advocacy on behalf of the campaign. (Here's a headline from me, last week, when Pierson claimed that Trump's position on immigration hadn't changed — just the words he'd used to describe it had.)

Compare that lineup with Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's campaign. He's been in his position from the outset. According to our analysis of data from the news-article archive, Bannon has generated twice as many headlines this month mentioning his name as Mook has generated so far this year. Manafort generated nearly one-fifth more headlines in four months at the head of the campaign than Lewandowski did in six.

Note that the graph only covers periods during which the people mentioned were in service to their campaigns. This skips all of the Lewandowski stories from his tenure as a CNN commentator.

Part of Trump's problem has been that he has run against the Republican establishment from the outset. That has played to his advantage, but his willingness to do battle with the party has forced consultants who would normally be eager to sign up to work for a presidential nominee to be a bit more wary, lest they burn bridges with the GOP. And despite Trump's declaration that he doesn't want "publicity seekers," he keeps hiring people who've been happy to seek out publicity in the past.

Trump's campaign has hired the best people in one regard, though: They're awfully good at finding their way into headlines.