President Donald Trump is getting the gang back together—or at least he’d like to. He’s certainly well on his way to assembling the team he’s always envisioned.
He’ll have plenty of cover as he puts on the finishing touches: his frenemy speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, just last week hailed the president’s “darn good” cabinet following the installation of Mike Pompeo at the State Department and John Bolton at the National Security Council.
Ryan even went so far as to defend the beleaguered Ronny Jackson, now withdrawn from Veterans’ Affairs secretary, calling the allegations against the admiral potentially “baseless.”
Now the president can accomplish the coup de grace: installing Corey Lewandowski, his first campaign manager and continual confidante, as his chief of staff, sources familiar with the matter tell TAC.
All this was lost on most in last weekend’s shuffle—and the ensuing furor over comedian Michelle Wolf’s risible performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
But appearing with Trump at a political rally in Michigan on Saturday was none other than Lewandowski, who strikingly was called on by the president to address the crowd.
“Speaking of not being a patsy or a pushover,” the president told those gathered on Saturday night, “you ever watch Corey Lewandowski on the shows? Where’s Corey? Corey! And [Citizens’ United chief] David Bossie.”
Bossie is another Trump consigliere who could be formally ushered into the West Wing.
Trump waved Lewandowski on stage: “He only ran one campaign and he won. So he’s one for one.”
Lewandowski then declared: “This is Trump country! We love you Michigan! Thank you for supporting Donald J. Trump as…president of the United States. Thank you very much.”
Trump is famously allergic to sharing the spotlight with most anyone, but he has made some notable exceptions.
Those familiar with Lewandowski say that Trump summoning him was evocative of when he called onstage Reince Priebus, who would become chief of staff, during election night in 2016.
“Reince is really a star,” said the then-president-elect. “Say a few words.” Priebus at first resisted—“no, no, no”—but then, like Lewandowski, was brief and unctuous: “Ladies and gentleman, the next president of the United States.” Trump also hosted a similar political rally with James Mattis after naming Mattis to be his secretary of defense in December 2016.
A couple of factors are at play here.
First, the president doesn’t really want a chief of staff, not in any traditional sense. As Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman reported last week, he’s considering shuffling the incumbent, General John Kelly, over to the VA now that Jackson is out of the picture.
A source intimately familiar with Trump’s work style says the recent Cabinet reshuffle is true to form—he wants a rotating cadre of advisors who double as friends, with no central management to stop him. Hence Bolton and new chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow. As I’ve reported: “He’d have Seb Gorka back, if he could.”
Fox News host Lou Dobbs is another: Trump at one point wanted him on the National Economic Council. And while Kudlow eventually got the nod to head it instead, it’s been well-reported that Dobbs has been phoned into White House meetings by the president. With Kelly much diminished, expect more of this style of management.
The possible chief of staff opening is an excuse to finally give Lewandowski a job in the administration. Trump likely doesn’t have the stomach to leave the job empty: a source familiar with the White House informs me that it’s not worth the hysteria such a move would create in Washington. Yet Lewandowski’s return would also likely trigger a firestorm. It “would be insane,” a Trump confidante tells me.
But it would also be a boost to many of Trump’s oldest core supporters. “He should [get chief of staff]…I love Corey,” says a very prominent activist for Trump. On staffing generally, this source relays that the White House needs people who “inherently understand Trump.”
With Lewandowski at the helm, the administration could replicate the outlaw, lean-and-mean, and almost start-up feel of Trump’s stunning primary campaign, which Lewandowski led until he was fired in June 2016. He has continued to serve as an unofficial media surrogate for Team Trump ever since.
There is a second advantage to having an old campaign hand onboard. Trump has declared his intention for re-election earlier than any modern president. Just last week, even old rival Ted Cruz endorsed his former foe.
Going forward, Lewandowski’s installation would set the tone for the emerging campaign. A veteran Democratic operative tells me he’s been hearing much the same.
It may seem unimaginable, but the United States is a half-year from the start of its next presidential campaign. Trump has already named a campaign manager, the digital whiz Brad Parscale. One Democrat, Congressman John Delaney, has quixotically declared a presidential run and, as of late April, visited 48 of 99 Iowa counties.
After the midterms in November, especially if the Democrats romp (which is plausible but not assured), a host of liberals will either declare or announce exploratory measures by Christmas. It’s almost certain to be the largest Democratic field in history—potentially exceeding the bulging 2016 Republican roster.
As Lewandowski declared pointedly in Michigan, a state that delivered this cohort to power: “This is Trump country.”
Curt Mills is foreign affairs reporter at The National Interest, where he covers the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Trump presidency.