“I always equate Donald Trump to a great racehorse—you have to let him run,” Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told a full room last week at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIP). “My job is to put blinders on him and pat him into the corners a little bit and tell him, ‘Hey, you got to be careful on this one.’”
Seven members of The Vanguard editorial board were among the 150 or so in attendance at the event, having been invited by a Boston Globe contact with ties to the journalism programs in Watertown’s public schools. The goal of the February 27 talk, entitled “The Trump Administration’s Campaign Promises and Policy Priorities,” was to be “a nice, respectful American conversation,” NHIP Executive Director Neil Levesque, who introduced Mr. Lewandowski and curated the event, said.
Off Campus Editor Rachel Avram ’18 said she and her fellow editors—none of whom identified as Trump supporters—viewed the talk as an opportunity to exit the the school’s “one perspective” political climate and hear another opinion.
“Roughly half of the country holds very different beliefs than most of us at BB&N,” she said. “We have to play our part by exposing ourselves to different perspectives and looking for places where we can compromise.”
Over the course of the evening, Mr. Lewandowski spoke on topics ranging from his entrance into politics after being raised by a single mother in Lowell, Massachusetts, to the personal characteristics of President Trump that he most admired.
Mr. Lewandowski was allegedly fired from the campaign in June, following an accusation that he had forcefully grabbed a reporter’s arm after a press conference and rumors that a power struggle existed within the campaign between him and then Chief Strategist Paul Manafort, according to The New York Times.
In a brief round-table conversation after the event with the 10 student journalists in attendance, mostly from this publication, Mr. Lewandowski described his current relationship with the White House.
“I chose not to go inside the administration because I wanted to be the outside resource to get the president’s agenda done,” he said. “I want to be the individual on the outside that can go and advocate for the president’s agenda that is not bound by the rules of the federal government.”
The rule he referred to was the Hatch Act, which, he explained, prevents federal employees from engaging in political activities such as campaigning between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., a restriction he did not wish to observe.
Mr. Lewandowski began his political career as a staffer on Capitol Hill after receiving his master’s degree in politics at American University. He went on to help run multiple campaigns and work briefly with the Republican National Committee.
He was working as the National Director of Voter Registration of Americans for Prosperity—a political advocacy group that fights for economic prosperity through lower taxes and less governmental regulation, according to its website—when a friend invited him to New York City to meet with Mr. Trump in 2015.
“President Trump is so magnanimous,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “He’s so good when you go to meet him. He’s so embracing—he brings you in close.”
In that first meeting, Mr. Lewandowski said, Mr. Trump told him he had “a good look” and offered him a job on the spot.
“He shook my hand and said, ‘You’re hired, go on, get out, I’ll see you on Monday,’” Mr. Lewandowski recalled. “I said, ‘Well, sir, I have a job.’ He said, ‘You work for me now.’”
Mr. Lewandowski went on to explain that when he began, the presidential team consited of only five people.
“You could have put them in a minivan,” he said. “But the bond that those five people had because they had one singular focus—which was to make Donald Trump president of the United States—was unbelievable.”
“There were no leaks,” he added. “The group was very cohesive.”
Mr. Lewandowski contrasted the early campaign team with the current White House staff, saying the latter is made up of people who don’t know the president and have a different agenda. The early campaign group worked relentlessly, inspired by Mr. Trump’s work ethic, Mr. Lewandowski added.
When Mr. Levesque asked Mr. Lewandowski about his “General Patton” persona as someone who ran a tight ship and had an edge, Mr. Lewandowski didn’t dispute the characterization.
“I run hot, as Steve Bannon would say sometimes,” he acknowledged, elaborating that he expected the very best from his campaign crew and that he would never tolerate staffers who complained of being tired.
Asked about whether the rallies and the tweets that came to differentiate Mr. Trump’s campaign were part of a loose strategy to just “let Trump be Trump,” Mr. Lewandowksi said that no, sometimes they had a plan.
“I think specifically of [Mr. Trump’s speech on] December 7 of 2015,” he said. “We talked about rolling out a Muslim ban. There was a lot of discussion about that. It was very controversial.”
Several times during the evening Mr. Lewandowski said that he and President Trump shared the belief that keeping America safe and secure is the president’s primary job. He did identify two occasions when he remembered tension with Mr. Trump, however.
“There was a lot of pressure after Iowa,” he said, referring to Mr. Trump’s second-place finish in the caucuses there. “We came to New Hampshire, and he was not in a very good mood.”
At rallies in New Hampshire, Mr. Lewandowski said, it was a problem that Mr. Trump was focused on attributing his Iowa loss to Ted Cruz’s tactics.
“I said ‘Here’s where your numbers are, sir… If you don’t start to outline what your vision is for America and you just want to complain about the results in Iowa, you’re going to be a candidate who also ran for President of the United States one day,” Mr. Lewandowski reported, adding that after that, things changed.