The best movie ever made about American politics is Michael Ritchie’s 1972 move, The Candidate. It speaks very directly to what’s wrong with the Trump Campaign today.
The movie is about an idealistic California liberal, Bill McKay, (played by Robert Redford), who is talked into running a long shot campaign for the Senate by political operator Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle). Redford, whose dad was governor of the state, is not interested. But Lucas has a convincing argument:
McKay: You’re saying I can say what I want? Do what I want? Say what I want? Go where I please?
Lucas: That’s right. Here’s your guarantee.
Lucas scribbles something on a pack of matches and hands it to McKay. He opens it: “You lose.”
McKay agrees, as long as he can control his image and his message. He runs against a group of obscure candidates and wins the primary. At the celebration, Lucas grabs McKay and pulls him into an empty bathroom to talk.
Lucas holds a printout in his hand, gives it to McKay.
Lucas: I’m a little disappointed.
McKay: Why? I’ve got 47% of the primary field.
Lucas: Yeah, but if you look at the projection on the printout, it adds up to 32% of the election.
Lucas: So, those figures hold to November, it’ll be Jarmon 68, McKay 32.
McKay: I thought I was supposed to lose.
Lucas: Now I’m telling you you’ll be wiped out. You’ll be humiliated.
McKay: That wasn’t part of the deal.
Someone tries to enter the bathroom. Lucas shouts him away.
Lucas: Somebody’s in here!
McKay: Maybe I should just quit.
Lucas: You can’t quit.
McKay: Go back –
Lucas: Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t go back. You’re the Democratic nominee for Senator.
McKay: You make that sound like a death sentence.
Lucas: No no no. (Pointing to paper) All that means is that you’re just reaching the people who agree with you already. Now we have to go after the rest.
McKay: Yeah, and what does that mean?
For the filmmakers, it means compromising his message, backing away from anything controversial, and selling out in general. Nobody talks about selling out anymore, they call it “moving to the middle.”
Paul Manafort obviously never had this conversation with Trump. He’s still running in the Republican primary, continuing to firm up a base that’s not going anywhere.