Meet The Tiny Team That Somehow Made Trump The 2016 GOP Frontrunner

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Real estate mogul Donald Trump has made it through the first Republican presidential primary debate and, according to an NBC News poll, remains the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Still, the fallout from his comments about Fox News host Megyn Kelly and dysfunction within the ranks of his campaign team could further complicate the direction of his campaign from here on out.

Just before the first Republican primary debate of the election cycle kicked off, New York Magazine reported that Trump’s campaign was going through some particularly rough growing pains as the new and old guard duked it out over strategy. Those tensions came to a head over the weekend in what the Trump campaign said was the firing of a top adviser.

Here’s a quick guide to those personalities who are running the day-to-day of Trump’s campaign or exerting their influence on the candidate from the outside. Several Trump associates have already spectacularly flamed out as well.

The core campaign staff

Corey Lewandowski, campaign manager

Lewandowski came to the Trump campaign with brief stint at the Republican National Committee in the early 2000s and a lengthy tenure at Americans For Prosperity, the conservative outside spending group backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch, already on his resume.

Trump first met his political match in Lewandowski at a forum hosted by AFP in New Hampshire in April 2014 and kept in touch until getting serious about a 2016 bid, according to a Politico profile of the campaign manager.

Hope Hicks, spokeswoman

The only woman in Trump’s inner circle is spokeswoman Hope Hicks, a public relations dynamo who landed with the billionaire’s campaign after working on his daughter Ivanka’s staff. The Washington Post noted that Hicks remains employed by both the Trump Organization and the campaign.

Michael Glassner, national political director

Glassner, a former top aide to one-time GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, was brought onto team Trump the week before Thursday’s primetime debate. He also counts working for former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign among his political bona fides.

The Donald’s longtime advisers

Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel

Michael Cohen, who’s been described as Trump’s “chief political adviser,” led the unsuccessful charge to persuade Trump to jump into the 2012 presidential race. He’s made numerous appearances on cable news over the last few months to discuss Trump’s political strategy for 2016. But, technically, Cohen works for the Trump Organization and not the campaign.

Trump himself told CNN that Cohen doesn’t speak for him following his lawyer’s much-maligned comments on spousal rape. But that distancing still hasn’t stopped Cohen from appearing on cable news as his boss’s surrogate.

Roger Stone, ex-adviser

Like Cohen, the colorful former aide to Richard Nixon had been giving interviews as a surrogate for the Trump campaign — except, as National Review Online pointed out, the Trump campaign was paying Stone for “communications consulting” that reportedly included debate prep.

But Stone and Trump had a rocky breakup over the weekend. The ensuing he-said-he-said exchange put the tensions reported in the New York Magazine piece on public display.

To quickly recap, Stone’s friends first told Politico that the operative quit Trump’s campaign on Saturday; Trump then went public saying that he actually fired Stone; and Stone then tweeted that it was he who “fired Trump” because the billionaire feuded with Fox News host Megyn Kelly during and after Thursday’s GOP debate.

Stone provided MSNBC with a letter of resignation he said he sent Trump, in which he expressed concern that the billionaire’s propensity for public feuding was getting in the way of his campaign messaging.

“Unfortunately, the current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights have reached such a high volume that it has distracted attention from your platform and overwhelmed your core message,” Stone wrote, as quoted by MSNBC.

The flameouts

Sam Nunberg, twice-fired consultant

Nunberg, a political consultant, first felt the wrath of The Donald after he persuaded the billionaire to go against his gut and participate in a BuzzFeed News profile. Nunberg thought the profile, which ran in early 2014 and was titled “36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump,” was a hit; Trump disagreed and Nunberg was fired.

But Nunberg, an associate of Stone’s reappeared this year on Trump’s 2016 campaign roster. The relationship didn’t last long, though: he was let go last week after Business Insider surfaced racially charged Facebook posts he’d written years ago. As a final indignity, Lewandowski, the campaign manager, referred to Nunberg as a “low-level part time” aide in a statement announcing his dismissal.

Aaron Borders, the “overzealous volunteer”

The Trump campaign was quick to paint failed Arizona state House candidate Aaron Borders as an “overzealous volunteer” who was not affiliated with the campaign once BuzzFeed News reached out about Borders’ questionable Facebook posts.

Both the campaign and Borders agreed that he did organize a successful rally for Trump in Phoenix, but they differed on Borders’ involvement beyond that event. Audio recordings of phone conversations between Lewandowski and Borders provided to BuzzFeed News showed that Borders planned to draw up plans for a ground game with the ultimate goal of coming on as the Trump campaign’s Arizona state director — until the aforementioned, racist Facebook posts sank his chances.

TPM illustration by Derick Dirmaier. Photos via AP.

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