You can see why no competent people would want to join the current White House team: They know they won’t get paid, they won’t get credit (not even Johnny-Cochrane-post-OJ-style credit), and they’d have to deal with some of the most unpleasant and incompetent individuals currently not under court-mandated supervision. Not to mention, even the enthusiastic brigands might not meet Lord Smallgloves’ highly egocentric standards. But, jeez, Lewandowski again?
… As unlikely a presidential candidate as Trump was 30 months ago, Lewandowski was an even more implausible pick to manage a presidential campaign. His experience in politics had been far from exemplary. When he hadn’t been failing in his own political ambitions—he managed just 143 votes in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the Republican nomination for a Massachusetts House of Representatives seat in 1994 and lost a race for the treasurer of his New Hampshire town 18 years later—he was coming up short on behalf of other politicians. Lewandowski had a stint working on Capitol Hill for an Ohio Congressman who’d later resign in scandal and serve 17 months in prison, and he managed the dismal reelection campaign of U.S. Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, who was the rare incumbent to lose a party primary. He eventually washed up at the New England Seafood Producers Association. For years, his closest brush with the big leagues of GOP politics came via his side-gig duties as a marine patrol officer on Lake Winnipesaukee, where Mitt Romney and his clan vacation. “He wasn’t even considered a B-teamer,” says one prominent Republican strategist, who first encountered Lewandowski on Smith’s campaign. “He was like a C- or D-level political operative.”
To the extent Lewandowski was thought of at all in broader political circles, it was because of his work for Americans for Prosperity, a group funded largely by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which in 2008 hired Lewandowski to serve as its New Hampshire state director. (“The Koch operation is the island of misfit toys,” explains the prominent Republican strategist.) It was propitious timing. Riding the Tea Party wave in 2010, AFP helped Republicans take back the New Hampshire legislature and the state’s two seats in the U.S. House. Lewandowski created his own momentum, as well. Noticeable for the fact that he was invariably wearing a suit—a rarity in New Hampshire politics—Lewandowski became famous for “debating” a life-size cardboard cutout of the state’s Democratic governor at political rallies. “It got attention,” says Greg Moore, a New Hampshire conservative activist who succeeded Lewandowski as AFP state director. “You have to have someone who’s out there and leading the charge, and Corey certainly was that.” After the 2010 triumph, Lewandowski was promoted inside AFP to a regional director.
But according to multiple sources, Lewandowski ultimately ran into trouble at AFP. One former Koch adviser says it was because of spending and management issues—including an incident in which Lewandowski threatened to “blow up” the car of AFP’s chief financial officer because of a late reimbursement check. (Lewandowski has denied making this threat.) A GOP political operative says the Kochs were embarrassed when AFP was accused of voter-suppression tactics after its North Carolina chapter, which Lewandowski oversaw, sent a mailer to voters there with incorrect voter-registration information. Another former Koch adviser says Lewandowski was simply one of many AFP apparatchiks whose heads were put on the chopping block after the group spent hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012 and Republicans failed to win back the White House or the Senate. Whatever the reason, these sources say, by the time Lewandowski met with Trump at the beginning of 2015, he had fallen out of favor at AFP.
But Trump, according to people close to him, did not realize that. Indeed, when he offered Lewandowski the job of campaign manager, he believed he was poaching one of the Koch Brothers’ top talents. “Trump thought he was getting somebody who left the Kochs to go work for him,” says Sam Nunberg, an adviser to Trump at the time who later clashed with Lewandowski. “He thought he was getting the Kochs’ shiny trophy, when he was really getting their dog shit.”
And yet, in some ways, Lewandowski was the perfect campaign manager for Trump—at least at the beginning. “Five of us, that was the whole team,” he’s recalled wistfully. “You could have put ’em in a minivan.” Unburdened by any previous national campaign experience, and eager for his new boss’s approval, Lewandowski didn’t try to force the candidate into a conventional box. Instead, his mantra was “Let Trump be Trump”—which turned out to be a singularly important insight, a strategic directive that ultimately propelled Trump to the White House. “Mr. Trump’s gut instinct is better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Lewandowski told me.
While Lewandowski’s critics were quick to point out that his duties for Trump were less those of a traditional campaign manager than of an “advance man”—the political worker bee who ensures the rallies have the right number of flags—that particular job, given the nature of Trump and his campaign, was a crucial one. If Trump decided on the spur of the moment that he wanted to go campaign Philadelphia, Lewandowski would find the biggest arena; if an aide played the wrong walk-on music for Trump—like a live version of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” instead of the studio one—Lewandowski made sure the mistake never happened again. “Trump really pays attention to how his rallies work,” says one reporter who covered his campaign from its inception. “Corey was very good at making sure the thing that mattered most to the candidate, and at that point the campaign, were top-notch.”
The problem was that, as the campaign progressed, Lewandowski didn’t grow along with it. “You’re looking at a guy who not only didn’t understand strategy,” says a Republican political consultant who worked with Lewandowski on the Trump campaign, “he didn’t have a clue what a tactic was.” Even worse, Lewandowski resented those who did—and he became increasingly preoccupied with, and paranoid about, the people who were joining the campaign and turning the Trump minivan into a bandwagon…
His fate was apparently sealed when Lewandowski ran afoul of Jared Kushner. According to multiple sources, Lewandowski was discovered not only shopping damaging stories about Trump’s son-in-law to reporters, but also trying to keep Kushner from talking to higher-ups at the RNC. On a Sunday in mid-June—Father’s Day, in fact—Ivanka Trump reportedly insisted to her dad that he get rid of Lewandowski. The next day, Lewandowski arrived at Trump Tower at six in the morning, as he typically did, and conducted his usual series of conference calls; at 9:30, he was summoned into an office, where Trump’s two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as a family attorney, were waiting for him. They told him he was being terminated from the campaign. “What am I being fired for?” Lewandowski asked. “We won!” Security guards then escorted him from Trump Tower and he walked out, alone, onto Fifth Avenue.
But Lewandowski had the good sense not to burn his bridges. That afternoon, he appeared on CNN (in what would turn out to be a job audition of sorts) to sing Trump’s praises. “Corey recognized it was an honor, it was a gift, and it was time to hand off the torch,” says Bryan Lanza, a Lewandowski friend who also worked on Trump’s campaign. “Corey’s a professional.”…