Photo illustration by John R. Lamb
Trump devotee Doug Manchester might be in line for a sunny ambassadorship.
An ambassador is not simply an agent; he is also a spectacle.
Apparently the presidential rise of Donald J. Trump has been like a B-12 shot to the 74-year-old tush of local arch-conservative kingpin of the big-ass development world, Douglas Frederick “Papa Doug” Manchester.
Unchained now from the line of work he clearly struggled with—running the Union-Tribune—Manchester has been a veritable beaver of activity of late: talking up his prized bayfront Pacific Gateway project as it lumbers toward commencement; boasting he will do “everything in my power” to keep pro football in San Diego; moving his corporate HQ to Bankers Hill; and apparently still siring children.
So when word leaked out in reports that Manchester “has already told associates,” as CNN put it, that he’s been tapped as the next U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, well let’s just say Spin had to find a chair, pronto. This guy is tuckering!
Rumors of the Trump envoy choice date back to late December, when the website BahamasPress.com posted this with no further explanation or sourcing: “Lyford Cay Resident Papa Doug Manchester is being tapped as the next US Ambassador to the Bahamas under a Trump Administration.”
In diplomatic circles, Spin imagines it would be poor horsemanship to declare such a bestowment of duty prematurely, considering the hoops—both practical and political—that ambassadors-in-waiting must navigate before assuming their posts. Hence, it’s no surprise Manchester has remained publicly silent so far on the purported nomination.
But as these kinds of appointments go, Manchester has certainly earned his consideration. An early Trump supporter, Manchester portrays himself as a devout Donald disciple, frequently shrouding his gray dome with the trademark-red “Make America Great Again” cap and preaching to anyone who will listen that this president is “an incredibly smart man with a big heart.”
In politics as in Hollywood, there is room for poetic license, so in the interest of personal well-being (“Serenity now!”) Spin will let that slide for the time being—this apparently being Papa’s chance to shine on an international stage.
One might presume that this position—officially known as the “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Bahamas”—is one of those plum posts you hear about that major election-campaign contributors pine for and typically get. Well, you’re right, but it won’t be all conch fritters and turquoise-blue waters.
For one thing, the last nominee to the position during the Obama Administration, Cassandra Butts, literally died while awaiting confirmation, which was blocked by Republican senators in a dispute with the president for more than two years. Since 2011, interim appointees have filled the post.
Last week, the embassy issued a “security message” for tourists during spring break in the Bahamas. Suggestions ranged from “avoid being alone with strangers, jet ski, taxi, or scooter operators” and “do not swim while drinking” to stern warnings about marijuana use (“entrapment is a frequently used law enforcement technique in the Bahamas”) and hospitalization (“typically expect immediate cash payment before medical services are provided”).
An ambassadorship is also a full-time job. Fortunately, as noted in the BahamasPress.com posting, Manchester owns a home in Lyford Cays, described as one of the most exclusive and wealthiest gated communities in the world, with such notable inhabitants as the Bacardi rum family, actor Sean Connery (the location is a favorite of the James Bond franchise) and Czech fugitive financier Viktor Kožený. So at least he’s been there.
If confirmed, Manchester would be the most noteworthy ambassadorial pick from the region since the late M. Larry Lawrence, Democratic Party impresario and long-time owner of the iconic Hotel del Coronado.
The similarities are striking, from the blustery personality traits to the obsession with real estate development and politics. (Slight tip of the ego goes to Manchester, though, who can’t resist slapping his name on every building he settles into, as evidenced by recent exterior renovations to his latest acquisition, the famous Mr. A’s building at 5th Avenue and Laurel Street.)
Laurie Black, a political dynamo herself who was Lawrence’s daughter-in-law, remembers in painful detail the saga of Lawrence, Ambassador to Switzerland. Appointed in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton, Lawrence would serve in the post for about three years before dying from a blood disorder after a long battle with leukemia.
The joke at the time was Switzerland, a neutral country militarily, served as the best possible location for Lawrence “because it was the one place he couldn’t start a war,” Black recalled with a laugh.
Lawrence became the first person disinterred from Arlington National Cemetery when it was discovered that he had fabricated his World War II service in the Merchant Marines when actually attending college in Chicago. A 1997 New York Times story, headlined “Body, and Tombstone of Lies, Are Removed,” detailed the whole sordid tale of deception and prompted a cursory examination of the ambassador-vetting process.
Black, who said her family refers to the episode as the “Unbury Larry” chapter, offered the simple advice of “less is more” for Manchester going forward. “You have to declare everything,” she said about the vetting process. “Our family was interviewed by the FBI. I don’t know if that means his tax returns, but they’ll take a look at his wives, his children, grandchildren, everything.”
Black said she’s convinced Lawrence made up his military record—including fake “suicide mission” heroics that garnered Russian Embassy accolades—in order to gloss over his lack of diplomatic experience. “It was a Democratic Congress, and they were not nice to him,” she said.
So be careful what you wish for, Pappy D. It won’t be all play in the sand and getting a nice tan. The Bahamas has its problems—the highest rate of sexual assaults in the Caribbean, according to a 2012 United Nations report, with a wealth of islands historically “favored by smugglers and pirates,” the State Department says.
Best of luck!