Exclusive: Tim Clark and Ron Nehring, running California campaigns for Trump and Cruz respectively, advised rightwing tycoon Manuel Baldzons campaign
The two men hired by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to spearhead their presidential campaigns in California are, for the moment, rivals in what could be the most important primary race of 2016.
But four years ago, Tim Clark and Ron Nehring, who are running the California campaigns for Trump and Cruz respectively, worked as paid advisers to a campaign to elect a Guatemalan presidential candidate whose platform included a call for public executions.
Clark and Nehring, the Guardian can reveal, spent six weeks in Guatemala in 2011 working as advisers to Manuel Baldzon, a rightwing populist and business tycoon who campaigned on the promise of broadcasting the executions of criminals on TV.
The pair of Republican political consultants, now at the helm of competing presidential campaigns in California, were paid to advise Baldzon by what Clark elliptically refers to as business interests.
Clark confirmed the pairs involvement in the Guatemalan campaign during a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian.
Ron called and asked me to come down. He had the contact, Clark said. Hey Clark, I could use a little help down here. What do you think?
We had bodyguards. We had translators. We drove around in a black SUV full of semi-automatic machine guns in the back.
It was interesting, Clark said of the experience. Glad I came out alive.
Baldzons political career in Guatemala has long been linked to unsavory patronage a concern that InsightCrime, a group that investigates organized crime in the Americas, reports is fueled by his refusal to disclose the identity of the private donors who bankroll his campaigns.
Dr Michael Allison, a Latin America expert and associate professor of political science at the University of Scranton, said Baldzon had faced questions over campaign finance improprieties.
As a candidate in 2011, Baldzon ran on a platform where he promised to make use of televised executions, he said, describing him as a populist who promised everything to everybody. He promised to get the countrys national soccer team to qualify for the World Cup.
Baldzon has never been charged with a crime and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Clark said he and Nehring met with Baldzon and advised his campaign, traveling the country with him and attending rallies. But Clark said they were a step removed because their work was paid for by corporate interests and they were not formally part of the campaign.
In many ways it felt like you were the shiny object in the room: Oh, the American strategists are here. But Ron did a really good job of helping set him [Baldzon] on message, I felt, he said.
While Nehring took care of political messaging around free-market issues, Clark said, his role was to assist Ron, to run the metrics, to look at it, to see where and what and how.
Following the interview, Clark emailed the Guardian a statement playing down their work for Baldzon. He stressed that he and Nehring were not in any way privy to all of the campaigns media and messaging strategies.
Working under Rons umbrella, our role was specifically advising, where possible, on free market, economic growth policies, he wrote. If our time there was made to look more than this, it would be a completely inaccurate portrayal of our activities.
Clark also said in the email that he did not know about Baldzons campaign promise of televising executions even though it was widely reported in the international media as well as the Guatemalan press.
I am unaware of his platform regarding public safety, he said.