A political book can’t get much better than this.
Whatever else divides Americans, surely the vast majority agree that the 2016 election was one of the most riveting in a very long time — if ever in American history.
Corey Lewandowski managed most of that campaign on the Trump side, with David Bossie coming in as the deputy campaign manager. Together the two have produced Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency. A serious “we were there” history of a candidate and campaign that astonished many and, if one were to listen to the mainstream media, infuriated many more.
Decades from now, as is true of all American presidents, there will be a volume or two of presidential memoirs. All the Cabinet and staff members of note and relevance will have chimed in — and the eternity of historical arguments over President Trump will be in full flower. There is nothing new or unusual about this. There are historians out there still arguing about George Washington’s presidency, not to mention his more notable successors in the growing crowd of American presidents that has now reached a full 44 in number unless you, as do most, count the term-separated Grover Cleveland twice, which makes Donald Trump 45.
What Lewandowski and Bossie have delivered here is the classic, all-important firsthand account of a winning presidential campaign. And in this case, it is the winning campaign that few thought was winnable at all.
The two weave their own personal stories throughout, providing a “you are there” firsthand account of what they saw, thought, and did in the moment. Most importantly, they paint a portrait of the candidate himself that is, thankfully, realistic and quite human, drawing a vivid portrait of a real person who, in the style of all American presidents, begins a campaign and winds up as an icon — loved and hated by friends, fans, and the inevitable enemies.
No punches are pulled here, which is terrific for the historical record. Lewandowski briefly discusses the momentarily hot video of his grabbing then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. He says simply, in the style of the early 21st century, “watch the video.” (I did, many times. I had met Michelle Fields but once from an appearance on Sean Hannity’s television show. What she and others clearly felt occurred — a deliberate assault on a female reporter — I simply did not see. I saw a harried campaign aide in a campaign where the candidate was controversial — and in the middle of a tense campaign security bubble — instinctively flicking away a grabbing hand. Having been in these situations myself — and as an ex-staffer for President Reagan who had seen multiples of times the video of my then-future boss being shot as he emerged from a Washington hotel while surrounded by Secret Service and staff — I saw no ill intent. Good people can differ, but I thought the incident way overblown.)
But the incident was, in retrospect, a harbinger of the way the Trump campaign from the candidate on down was being treated in the media — and is still being treated. The theme was “Trump the bully.”
In a political context, the book touches on the underlying fury of the Republican Establishment that Trump was crashing their party. As an ex-Reagan staffer, this was something I had seen before. In July of 2015 I had written a column in this space titled “Yes, Trump Can Win” in which I noted the “wisdom” of the GOP Establishment of the day that a Reagan nomination would be a disaster for the Republican Party. My favorite quote from a GOP Establishment pillar was from Illinois Senator Charles Percy, who fearlessly predicted of a Reagan nomination that it “could signal the beginning of the end of our party as an effective force in American political life.” Um, no.
And like clockwork, as Lewandowski and Bossie recount, there is today’s GOP Establishment hero and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney assailing Trump as the latter’s campaign for the nomination gains speed. Romney described Trump in Percy-like tones as Percy intimated with Reagan. Trump, said the losing 2012 nominee, was a “con man” and “a phony, a fraud” and, well, yada yada yada.
Corey is bluntly honest about his own troubles in the campaign. There was the attention to the incident with Michelle Fields. The two write Corey’s story this way:
But business was business. And by the spring of 2016, Corey’s days as campaign manager were numbered. Though the boss never talked about it, he didn’t forget the loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa, or the embarrassment Ivanka and Jared had suffered at the caucus site. And though the incident with Michelle Fields wasn’t the reason for the fallout between him and the boss, the negative attention didn’t help Corey’s cause. It especially didn’t help his relationship with the boss’s children. Though none of those was solely responsible for Corey’s being fired, combined they set the stage. The last act for Corey began at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago on March 28.
At that dinner the name of Paul Manafort emerged. And the path was set for Corey’s exit and Manafort’s arrival as his eventual replacement. The tale is told here understandably from Corey’s point of view, which will be helpful for historians decades hence. Presidential biographies are chock-a-block with the tales of infighting between aides to the candidate and later president. The tale of Corey v. Manafort is the latest in the long historical path littered with rivalries between Washington’s Hamilton and Jefferson all the way through FDR’s quarrelsome New Dealers, Kennedy’s Irish Mafia, and Reagan’s Californian conservatives (think Ed Meese and Lyn Nofziger versus GOP Establishment-types James Baker and Richard Darman). Surely this was not always a fun book to write as descriptions of low moments and sharp back-and-forths with a very demanding candidate were necessary to make the book work — another word for being unflinchingly honest. Although one suspects Lewandowski loved skewering rival Manafort with descriptions like:
Meanwhile, Manafort is back at Trump Tower, in his apartment, 43G, making charts — he was big on charts — or sitting in the conference room with the Trump kids, and going out to the Hamptons on the weekend. And I’m on the road, I’m not sitting in my house in New Hampshire.
The tale of his ultimate dismissal is told. The calls of support. And Corey concludes what is eventually the thought of any sane person who has been fired from a job:
In hindsight, Corey still doesn’t know if the day he was fired was the worst or the best day of his life. Dave had some experience with getting fired, which he shared with his friend. When Newt Gingrich was House Speaker, he fired Dave as the chief investigator on the House’s government reform and oversight committee. Dave had felt the same way Corey did when it happened. But things worked out just find. And he assured Corey they would for him too.
Corey has certainly had opportunities since then that he couldn’t have imagined.
This is why a book like Let Trump Be Trump is important. My library shelves groan under the weight of these kinds of books about all presidents from Washington to, now, Trump. There has never been a President of the United States not surrounded by Shakespearean-style infighting. Clearly what history needs to make full assessments of a president are the basic facts — the who-shot-John — of those who surrounded the candidate and president of the moment. Without exception these tales are, as noted, always Shakespearean. They are the real-life tales of the flesh-and-blood human beings who, for one brief moment, were at the dead center of American and world history.
Let Trump Be Trump is but an early entry in the tales of the Trump presidency. The parade is in fact just getting started. Already so much has happened in the first year of the Trump presidency — a presidency that exists in part because of the efforts of Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie and an inevitable cast of others — that history writers and readers will be busy for a very long time absorbing the tale of the 45th presidency.
For political junkies already starting to pick up the first trickle of Trump books, this is a basic text. A “how-to” guide to understanding the mind of Donald Trump himself and the reason for the actions of those around him as he rode down that Trump Tower escalator and, as noted, to the joy and utter fury of others, into presidential history.
And there’s so much more to come! Merry Christmas!