Trump’s Threat to Take Down the GOP Still Stands (POLITICO Magazine)

Trump’s Threat to Take Down the GOP Still Stands

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“First of all,” David Bossie recalls Donald Trump telling his inner circle, “I’m going to win. And second, if the Republican Party is going to run away from me, then I will take you all down with me. But I’m not going to lose.”

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That was during the weekend last October when the “Access Hollywood” tape broke and Trump lashed back at Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for telling him he should either drop out or prepare to go down in a landslide.

People will dissect sentences and paragraphs of “Let Trump Be Trump,” the new “Game Change”-style insider book from Bossie and Corey Lewandowki. They’ll point out that parts aren’t true and other parts can’t be true, or just how much acrobatic hagiography is required to spin stories of a petulant, often raging candidate into tales of a man who just cares so much, and understands things so well.

“What a waste of time and money,” they say Trump said on election night when it looked like it he was going to lose, before greeting his sudden turnaround with, “Dave, can you believe this? We just started this to have some fun.”

They describe a man whose own loyalty flares and fades, while insisting that aides and Republicans overall owe loyalty to him.

His threat to take down the GOP if it resists, Bossie and Lewandowski told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast, still stands.

They wouldn’t answer if they think the president will stay a member of the Republican Party, let alone committed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The furthest Lewandowski would go: “I think the president very much respects the Republican Party. He is very engaged with the Republican National Committee and helps them raise a lot of money and understands that having Republicans controlling Congress is a fundamentally different thing than having Democrats.”

“When you are fighting the establishment—not just the Democrats, but there are some within the party and the deep state,” Bossie said, “you’re going to fight all of that and you’re going to get some people, even in your own party, who don’t like what you’re doing.”

Lewandowski is the campaign manager Trump fired in June 2016 who stayed loyal to and in touch with Trump even as he was banking hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as a CNN contributor. Bossie is the president and chairman of Citizens United, who came in as deputy campaign manager for Trump later on, and they remain the aggressively beating heart of the Trump reactionary combativeness—or, “two blessed lucky guys to be able to participate in this incredible ride that he took this on,” Bossie says.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether the book or the words ascribed to the president are accurate, or how he currently feels about taking down the GOP with him. Nor did she respond to a question about the president’s feelings about the book coming out despite the famous nondisclosure agreements Trump made all his campaign staff sign.

With detours to trash Paul Manafort and heavily suggest he stole money from the campaign—“being a bad chairman is one thing, OK? Paul is a bad person,” Lewandowski said, though stopping short of saying he hopes the Robert Mueller indictment leads to jail time—the two gush nonstop about the president in their new book, a purported campaign tell-all that they acknowledge doesn’t include material that would violate their NDAs.

Among the moments served up as classic inside dish is a phone conversation between Lewandowski and Trump during the transition noting how bare bones their initial operation was, when the former campaign manager brings up now-White House communications director Hope Hicks, at the time a 28-year-old political novice:

Trump: “She had about as much experience as a coffee cup.”

Lewandowski: “But she’s good looking.”

Trump: “That always helps.”

Hicks didn’t respond to an email asking how she felt about this being in the book, or another scene in which candidate Trump is described as hearing an argument between Hicks and aide A.J. Delgado on the campaign plane and lowering his newspaper just long enough to yell “Cat fight!”

Candidate Trump is described as hearing an argument between Hope Hicks and A.J. Delgado on the campaign plane and lowering his newspaper just long enough to yell “Cat fight!”

Lewandowski and Bossie say they didn’t realize that the title of their book, "Let Trump Be Trump"—which Lewandowski wrote at the top of the whiteboard he kept in his campaign office—came from the famous “Let Bartlet be Bartlet” line from “The West Wing.”

But they still believe there’s an essential wisdom there: Everyone should give up on waiting for John Kelly to contain or control Trump; at this point, no one is stopping him from being what he wants to be.

“If you look at what General Kelly is doing, General Kelly has been very clear,” Lewandowski said. “He is the chief of the staff. He’s not the chief of the president. He doesn’t dictate to the president what he can and cannot do. He oversees the staff. That is a very important function. That’s what helps the president to be successful.”

Sitting around the dining room table of the Capitol Hill townhouse that Lewandowski is proud and amused has taken on an air of mystery as his base of operations, they see a president who’s justifiably frustrated with a Washington that won’t bend to his will. They say they saw riots against him during the campaign and transition, and insist that liberals’ unmoving opposition to him is like nothing else in history—it bears no resemblance to the Republican reaction to Barack Obama.

“The Republicans fought [Obama] on ideas,” Bossie said. “This is different. This is a ‘no.’ This is a hard and fast, ‘We are not doing anything that you want to do.’”

Loyalty, they say, is all the president ever wants, whether from Democrats who won’t sign on to his agenda or from former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who told reporters in the closing days of the election that Trump would lose and was already starting to look for TV work on that contingency. Spicer, who’s told people he’s weighing his own book but insists he won’t do a tell-all, didn’t respond to questions about what’s in “Let Trump Be Trump.”

How deep does Lewandowski’s and Bossie’s own loyalty go? They both say that not having jobs in the White House is because they didn’t take them for the sake of their own children. And they both go out of their way to say just how astute they think all of the president’s children are—despite Lewandowski having been fired by Donald Trump Jr. after the Trump children had lost faith in him and turned to Manafort.

Lewandowski, for example, said he wasn’t ready to believe the well-documented reports that, among other things, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner pushed the president to fire FBI Director James Comey and to support Senator Luther Strange in the Alabama GOP primary—both major political missteps (and perhaps much more than that in Comey’s case).

Kushner and his wife, fellow senior adviser Ivanka Trump, “are trying,” Lewandowski told me. “It is a very difficult job in that building and nobody can bat .100 or 1000, right? It was just very hard.”

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December 5, 2017 at 09:06AM