Inside the Billionaire's Blue-Collar Campaign
I thought throughout the 2016 presidential race that if it were a 1980s coming-of-age comedy, the Trump campaign would be the scrappy underdogs from the down-at-its-heels camp about to lose its lease while its well-funded, blow-dried adversaries came from the posh, preppy camp across the lake. Whatever you think you know about the Trump campaign, prepare to be astonished.
“Let Trump Be Trump,” by Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, is an underdog story. Their book is a uniquely engaging inside account that is as bracing as the candidate and the team it describes.
This is a serious book, not another campaign tell-all full of score-settling digs and salacious errata. The authors provide a welcome departure from the peevish tone of so many recent campaign books. Instead they offer an honest inside look at the Trump campaign that conveys the team’s gritty blue-collar work ethic, the camaraderie, the loyalty and the can-do spirit that transformed them from a punchline to a political juggernaut.
Successful political movements, of which campaigns are a part, run on friendship, loyalty, and trust. Without those three things they can’t survive, let alone thrive. Politics, as Mr. Dooley, famously noted, ain’t beanbag. Corey Lewandowski should know. He’s the man who was employee No. 1 in the Trump campaign, who built the apparatus, shared a desk during the early days in Trump Tower, and flew around the country with “the boss” making the case for a Trump presidency. He then took one for the team by resigning as campaign manager after Never Trump Republicans put a bulls-eye on his back and he became a distraction for the candidate and the cause he believed in.
The book is full of interesting tidbits that help explain some of the oddities of the 2016 race, such as the intermittent détente-cum-alliance between the Trump and Ted Cruz campaigns during the early and middle stages of the race. The authors note that “the Cruz camp had made a strategic decision to run against Donald Trump at the end of the campaign, when most of the other primary candidates would be out of the race.” This move led the Cruz team to share critical New Hampshire primary polling data with the Trump campaign, which wasn’t doing any polling of its own. The data helped Team Trump recalibrate after a second-place Iowa finish and win the Granite State and then roll quickly onto South Carolina.
Lewandowski and Bossie describe the Trump campaign during the Iowa caucuses as waging an air campaign against land warfare. The metaphor worked for the entire race. Traditional candidates spent tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars building large grassroots machines replete with operatives, activists, and consultants. With Trump’s fleet of private aircraft -- the 757 known as Trump Force One, the Citation X, and the Sikorsky helicopters -- the candidate went over or around every traditional line of defense that was built to halt his relentless advance. Campaign consultants for Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and eventually Hillary Clinton, like generals fighting the last war, spent their candidates’ cash and political capital on bigger media buys, far-fetched opposition research, and desperate appeals to party priests to anathematize Trump in hopes of depriving him of victory. But the political Maginot Line they erected proved every bit as effective as the original French version.
Losing Lewandowski was a blow to the campaign. Hiring Paul Manafort turned out to be worse. As the authors write of his brief interregnum: “Paul Manafort had been in charge of the campaign for eight weeks. In that time, the campaign had gone from a primary juggernaut under Corey to a death spiral.”
Though they wrote the book together, Bossie didn’t join the campaign until months after Lewandowski’s departure. In the wake of the Manafort debacle, Bossie’s main job “was to try to reestablish an esprit de corps” that had been lost during Manafort’s brief reign, which they characterize as “cold, sterile in action.” Still, the reader can’t help but wonder what might have been. What if Lewandowski and Bossie had been able to run the campaign together? No Manafort might have meant no mid-summer slump, which could have translated to an even larger margin of victory. And it might have meant no phony Russia narrative after the election.
Still, history does not reveal alternatives, and this unlikely blue-collar campaign by the country’s best-known billionaire was successful. Trump won. True, he won because of the hard work of people like Bossie and Lewandowski, but he won primarily because he tapped into the anxieties and aspirations of middle-class Americans of both parties. Party bosses weren’t listening when it came to immigration, trade, foreign military entanglements and a raft of other issues where D.C. called the tune and average Americans had to dance. That’s a perversion of the idea of self-government. There were millions of voters who knew it, but only one candidate who demonstrated that he knew it too.
After Trump defeated the entire Republican dream team in the primaries, the Clinton family in the general election, and ISIS as president, you’d think that would be the accepted wisdom. It isn’t. Add in a booming stock market, low unemployment, a raft of constitutionalist judges capped by Justice Neil Gorsuch, once-in-a-generation tax reform, repeal of the execrable individual mandate for health care, elimination of reams of stultifying regulations and it’s tough to see why Trump didn’t win 45 states.
Bringing in Bossie helped right the ship in the crucial run-up to the election. Samuel Goldwyn famously said that he would take 50 percent efficiency to get 100 percent loyalty. With Lewandowski and Bossie, he got 100 percent of both.
Maybe it’s time the know-it-all brigades of D.C. pundits and consultants took the authors’ advice and let Trump be Trump. It seems to be working.