Sometimes it is inexorably attractive to rely upon canards such as Rule #39 – “There are no coincidences” – from the TV show NCIS. A converse can be said to be “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” –the iconic statement of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran at the O.J. Simpson trial.
As the situation in the Ukraine has reached a new crucial threshold of full-scale combat and its likely subjugation, comments from leading or campaigning GOP folks range from “I don’t care” to “Biden acted too late, with too little.” The former president and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have both praised Putin’s leadership and strategic skills with no acknowledgment of support for US or NATO efforts to stem the invasion or initiate measures against Russia. The past is prologue is another useful adage to appreciate the GOP stance.
The assumption of Putin’s keen capacity to gauge the responses of the West to his hostile behavior is likely accurate and, if so, raises concern about the failure of the opposition party to stand with the allied bloc. This is the juncture where coincidence and ill-fitting gloves converge.
Between July 18-21 in 2016, the GOP convention took place in Cleveland to nominate its national candidates and ostensibly to compose a platform to attract and motivate the American public. Up to that point, the field of candidates had expended a great deal of energy and money in the competition, resulting in a presumptive nominee by the name of Donald Trump and little attention to the convention activities.
In March 2016, Paul Manafort, 68, who had volunteered to work on the Trump campaign, was named campaign convention manager. By May, he succeeded Corey Lewandowski, who was fired, as campaign chairman and chief strategist. The rough and tumble road traveled to the convention now had the promise of professional organization and substantial political skill.
As noted, the draft platform had received little attention from the frontrunner and was largely a product of long-time party stalwarts. At one committee meeting, a member sought to insert language encouraging the US to supply Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons.” Up to 1991, Ukraine was a soviet socialist republic member of the country then known as the USSR. In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, asserting that it was Russian territory despite its sovereign status within Ukraine. Russia declared the territory to be an independent, self-governing entity.
In June 2016 . . . Trump offered the opinion that Vladimir Putin is “not going to go into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine.” The statement was unequivocal and unambiguous, and seemingly not based upon any existential evidence in light of the 2014 Crimea event.
In June 2016, one month prior to the convention, George Stephanopoulos interviewed Trump, who offered the opinion that Vladimir Putin is “not going to go into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine.” The statement was unequivocal and unambiguous, and seemingly not based upon any existential evidence in light of the 2014 Crimea invasion and annexation.
Starting in 2005, Paul Manafort worked for political interests in Ukraine. His prior activity included lobbying and as an aide to Republican presidents. He developed a reputation for burnishing the image of controversial foreign leaders for acceptance in the US. These included Filipino Ferdinand Marcos, Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi, and Zairian strongman Mobutu Sese Seko. His newest client, Donald Trump, was sorely in need of image improvement and development.
However, political bad luck for Manafort’s Ukraine clients ended his lucrative gig, prompting him to volunteer to work for Trump. Most observers believe this was a ploy to parlay national prominence and notice into the future. But his tenure as campaign lead was short-lived after reports of his controversial business and political dealings in Ukraine surfaced, especially his lobbying for the country’s pro-Russian leader.
The campaign glove did not fit, and coincidence collided with career opportunity. . . . The dots of coincidence are stubborn. The pro-Russian client in Ukraine and the political party Manafort represented disparaged NATO and sought to bar Ukraine permanently from becoming a member.
In short, the campaign glove did not fit, and coincidence collided with career opportunity. There are apologists who parse the Manafort months in the campaign to deny any tie to scrubbing the “lethal weapons” language from the platform or that the platform was weakened in respect of support for Ukraine. The dots of coincidence are more stubborn. The pro-Russian client in Ukraine and the political party Manafort represented disparaged NATO and sought to bar Ukraine permanently from becoming a member.
Backed by Russian-leaning oligarchs, Ukraine’s Party of Regions opposed NATO membership and spouted anti-Western rhetoric that once helped fuel violence against American marines. Its reign ended when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia after bloody street gangs protested his personal corruption and pro-Moscow actions. The “NATO No” slogan appeared on giant television screens and mass-produced blue signs at rallies where Yanukovych spoke.
Today, Manafort’s most visible client, Trump, remains a dominant presence and potential candidate of the Republican party in 2024. It is anyone’s guess whether the dots from Ukraine to Manafort to Trump to the present will continue to silence Republican leaders regarding Putin’s aggressive conduct. In that context, it is compelling to recognize that one point in the line of dots was magnified by the January 2020 first impeachment of President Trump upon allegations that he held millions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine hostage as pressure to encourage investigation of his political rival Joe Biden. Now, the former president functions as a money machine for the GOP as that power is exercised by endorsements of candidates.
Acquittal of the GOP’s failure to support Ukraine cannot be fully made upon the basis of an ill-fitting glove. But then, the dots or coincidences from the past augur for application of the very definition of coincidence and the meaning of Rule #39, especially when the dots were made not too long ago.