July 5, 2016
Corey Lewandowski is gone from the Trump campaign, but definitely not forgotten. He got himself hired by CNN, despite having signed a non-disclosure agreement with the campaign that effectively prohibits him from criticizing his ex-boss. The network has a couple other paid Trump supporters, but they weren’t his body man/campaign manager for a year.
This means what Lewandowski says on CNN is far more likely to get picked up by Politico and other media outlets than his pro-Trump peers. He’s also not exactly subtle or layered in defending Trump, making it even easier to repeat his comments. When Trump (and/or his campaign) does something extra Trumpy (like using a Star of David on top of a money pile in a tweet), it’s Corey Time.
When Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and/or any other family members who pushed Trump to remove Lewandowski from the campaign drew up their plan, the idea was to get him out of the way. Much of this was internal, wanting Paul Manafort and the people he brought in to steer things, instead of having Lewandowski playing Trump whisperer.
With Corey removed, the campaign was able to add an actual media department, along with a few other key hires. Granted, one of them lasted approximately 6 minutes, but the team is noticeably enhanced. For better or worse, most of the new talent has the imprimatur of the GOP consultative establishment. Presumably, these guys will start doing some good at some point.
But that new media team was of no use over the holiday weekend. One Trump tweet with heavy anti-Semitic overtones was equal to or greater than Hillary Clinton’s interview with the FBI. This meant the campaign was unable to capitalize on speculation over what occurred, or continue to focus on Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s semi-clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton.
Whether it was Trump, or more likely a lower-level staffer who came up with the tweet (or at least the graphics for it) doesn’t matter. Maybe they thought they could get away with a clearly coded message. Maybe they were blind to an obviously offensive visual. Either way, the Trump-Lewandowski team struck again.
Almost immediately after this blew up, Lewandowski quickly moved to say it was just a sheriff’s badge, one commonly used throughout the country, not intended to represent anything Jewish. He also blamed “political correctness run amok.” On the surface it might seem useful to have an ex-operative in a visible CNN slot, able to defend the campaign however and whenever needed.
But it prevents the new media shop, already with the task of keeping their candidate somewhat measured and regularly cleaning up after him, from driving the narrative. Again, can’t emphasize enough how much this resembles pushing a giant boulder up a steep mountain. You can’t stop Trump, only hope to temporarily contain him between now and the convention.
Having Corey out there defending the candidate the way he would have if still on the official team, or saying what he would have their spokesperson say if it was up to him, is almost the same as if he was still in the room. When the person who’s primary strategy was “let Trump be Trump” has a megaphone, it gives Trump greater license to handle controversies like this the way he would prefer.
So on the day where FBI Director James Comey announced he didn’t believe Clinton was worthy of prosecution, and Lynch said she would follow his advice, the conversation is split between this bit of news, which includes heavy criticism from the FBI and directly contradicts Clinton’s story from last summer, and Paul Ryan and Ben Carson calling out Trump on the tweet.
Trump doesn’t ever want to back down. Neither does Lewandowski. Each got somewhere with this strategy. One is the presumptive nominee, the other went from being a mostly unknown operative in New Hampshire to getting plenty of CNN screen time. Though Trump replaced the star with a circle on the tweet, he’s doing his normal thing and spending the day pushing back against the criticism.
In doing so, he’s missing the chance to help frame the story about Clinton. The lack of an indictment is obviously very good news for her. However, the official finding that she sent many, many emails that were actually classified at the time is not. Neither is the announcement of non-indictment this soon after the meeting with Lynch and interview with Hillary. It’s not hard to claim this is a bit of a whitewash.
The window for this is open just a crack. A couple/few days from now, we’re on to non-stop speculation over the VP picks for each candidate. Today required a very strong, disciplined message team. If Trump has one growing, the candidate himself and his ex-manager flooded the soil before they could put down roots.
As long as Lewandowski has a TV platform, he might as well still speak for the campaign and have constant access to the candidate. Paul Manafort is an experienced and skilled political infighter, one who made plenty of progress consolidating power within the campaign over the past three months.
But he’s no match for the Trump-Lewandowski outside game. There may be a new sheriff in town, but the old one gets in front of the camera more often.