Donald Trump prides himself on the fierce loyalty he swears to the small group of staffers working to elect him as president. But all of that went out the window on Monday morning with the sudden announcement that the Trump campaign was “parting ways” with scandal-plagued campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Since the blustery real estate mogul first launched his campaign from the lobby of Trump Tower in the summer of 2015, Lewandowski was with him every step of the way, offering guidance and speaking to the media on his behalf. Like many on the campaign, he had a thin political resume, but the steely, Red Bull-chugging Lewandowski became indispensable to the campaign’s day-to-day operations.
Lewandowski served as Trump’s right-hand man throughout a tumultuous primary season and had the candidate’s vocal support even as he faced a misdemeanor battery charge for manhandling a reporter (the charge was ultimately dropped). Yet the campaign floundered even as Trump emerged as the presumptive nominee this spring, with flagging poll numbers, reports of internal discord and increasingly loud condemnations from GOP leaders exasperated by Trump’s anti-minority rhetoric.
Then came the startling news that Lewandowski was out. Despite the sudden and very public breakup, he remains tied to the Trump campaign as the chair of Trump’s New Hampshire delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Recap the hurdles Lewandowski jumped before he was ousted as campaign manager below:
A thin political resume
Profiles of Lewandowski paint a picture of an aggressive anti-establishment conservative whose career has veered all over the map. After earning a master’s degree in political science at American University, he did a brief stint as the Northeast legislative political director at the Republican National Convention in 2001 before kissing the Washington establishment goodbye.
Lewandowski left the RNC to serve as campaign manager for the failed 2002 re-election campaign of former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith (R), a candidate who had fallen out of favor with the state party. According to Politico, Lewandowski then worked as a New Hampshire state police officer before re-entering the world of politics as a lobbyist.
After five years at the New England Seafood Producers Association, he ended up at the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, where he became the New Hampshire state director. Lewandowski first met Trump at a 2014 AFP “Freedom Summit” in the Granite State. The two immediately hit it off, and Trump brought Lewandowski onboard as an adviser in January 2015 as he prepared to launch his bid for the GOP nomination.
Manhandling a Breitbart News reporter
Lewandowski became the center of a national media firestorm when former Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields accused him of roughly grabbing her arm when she tried to speak to Trump after a March 8 press conference at a Florida golf club. After Fields tweeted photos of bruises on her arm and wrote a column on Breitbart outlining her account of the run-in, Lewandowski launched a smear campaign against her, labeling her “delusional” and an “attention-seeker.” In fact, Lewandowski said, he’d “never even met” Fields.
Trump and his other senior staffers loyally lined up behind Lewandowski during the fallout, as leading conservative commentators called for the campaign manager’s ouster. “I don’t discard people, I stay with people,” Trump insisted at the time. The campaign released a statement calling Fields’ allegations “entirely false.”
Fields responded by filing a criminal complaint with Florida police on March 11. The same day, multiple videos surfaced that appeared to back up Fields’ story.
Soon after, Fields resigned from Breitbart after facing criticism from several of her colleagues who cast doubt on her account of what happened. Three other staffers, including editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, also resigned from the site in protest. In his statement, Shapiro said that Breitbart was in thrall to “bully” candidate Trump and his “bully campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.”
Jupiter, Florida police charged Lewandowski with misdemeanor battery for the incident on March 29, prompting Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson to promise that the campaign would “absolutely” retain him even if he was convicted because he was “an integral part of the campaign.”
Officials ultimately decided not to pursue the charge, saying there was no “good faith basis” to do so. Lewandowski said after the charges were dropped that he had no intention of making amends with Fields, calling an apology “unrealistic.”
On Monday, Fields tweeted at Lewandowski with the winking suggestion that he look into job opportunities with her former employer.
— Michelle Fields (@MichelleFields) June 20, 2016
A reported history of bullying and bad behavior
The high-profile altercation with Fields prompted a wave of news stories detailing the hot-headed Lewandowski’s allegedly troubled relationships with both journalists and former colleagues.
Politico spoke with 20 sources who worked with Lewandowski at Americans for Prosperity and on the Trump campaign, who shared stories of heated fights, casual sexist comments and inappropriate flirtations with reporters. Former colleagues at AFP told Politico that Lewandowski loudly berated a female employee who challenged him during a 2013 board meeting, inserting himself in her personal space and calling her a “cunt.”
Once on the Trump campaign, the anonymous sources said, Lewandowski became known for profanity-laced rants and making sexually suggestive comments to female reporters working the 2016 trail. Buzzfeed News published their own investigation citing half a dozen anonymous sources who claimed Lewandowski would make inappropriate overtures to female journalists in late-night phone calls.
Inter-campaign power struggles
Trump’s tiny team was never exactly known for its cohesion. (Ousted campaign staffer Sam Nunberg told GQ of his long-standing desire to “suck the fucking blood” out of Lewandowski’s skull). But the April hiring of veteran GOP operative Paul Manafort to steer the rudderless outfit created a major rift. Almost immediately after Manafort came onboard, reports circulated of friction between the new hire and Lewandowski, forcing Trump to go on the record about the “harmony” within his team.
The sharp contrasts in the two top aides’ management styles quickly became clear. While Lewandowski had for months allowed Trump to run with his loose-cannon style, Manafort tried to reign him in, walking back some of Trump’s more outlandish remarks in cable news interviews and assuring top conservatives that Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks wouldn’t change.
Manafort assumed control of traditional campaign duties that had fallen by the wayside, including wrangling delegates to support Trump at the convention and expanding the barebones communications staff. More staff shakeups, including the departure of field director David Jolly, were announced. Lewandowski was effectively demoted to “body man and scheduler,” as Manafort took on more and more control behind the scenes. In late May, Manafort was named the “campaign chairman,” effectively eclipsing Lewandowski.
Manafort was not the only Trump staffer to butt heads with the campaign manager. The New York Post reported in May that he and spokeswoman Hope Hicks were spotted in the middle of a screaming match on a Manhattan street, with a tearful Hicks screaming, “I am done with you!”