If Donald Trump listens to anyone, it is his family. To be specific, he listens to his daughter, Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. Anyone curious about the departure of Corey Lewandowski from the candidate’s campaign should therefore begin with this up-and-coming generation of family members. If they wanted Lewandowski to stay with the campaign, he would almost certainly still be there. The fact that he has been fired suggests they did not.
News that Lewandowski had been dismissed by Trump came after months of speculation that there was turmoil in the campaign, talk that only grew louder in April when Trump hired a more seasoned operative, Paul Manafort, to be “convention manager.” Manafort’s portfolio was expanded in May when he was named “chief strategist.”
Lewandowski had been the chief proponent of what he called the “Let Trump be Trump,” strategy, which in practice meant wanting the candidate to continue to be outspoken, even to the point of offending millions of voters. Indeed, even after he was fired — against the backdrop of flagging poll numbers for Trump since he became the presumptive nominee — Lewandowski refused to question Trump’s decision to attack an American-born federal judge overseeing the Trump University case as “Mexican” and therefore biased against him.
In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash shortly after his firing was announced, Lewandowski seemed to offer his own version of the Trump style, insisting that he was a “straight shooter,” and offering some fact-challenged assertions about Trump’s poll numbers in Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I’m proud of the campaign. I really am,” said Lewandowski. “But I also understand the reality of building an infrastructure, coupled with the RNC’s [Republican National Committee] 500 people on the ground and all the resources.”
“Why couldn’t you be the person to do it?” asked Bash.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” came the answer.
But if Lewandowski truly doesn’t know why he wasn’t kept on to restructure the campaign for the general election, he’s one of the few in politics who has doubts about the issue. In virtually every press account of his firing, members of the Trump family are linked to the decision, which is being framed as an effort to end the chaos inside the campaign. CNN reported that Ivanka Trump was particularly critical of Lewandowski.
When I interviewed the three eldest Trump children, they each said they were comfortable expressing concerns to their father, whether it was about his business, political or personal activities. “I’m now at a place where I’ve had my own professional successes and I have a level of confidence,” said Ivanka, explaining her approach to her father. (She also described herself as “risk averse.”) Donald Jr. was a bit more direct, telling me that, “Behind closed doors we can say, ‘Hey listen. We disagree with you on X, Y, Z.’ “
Corey Lewandowski’s departure should signal the rising influence of the Trump children and their spouses. Since Donald listens to them, above all others, he may finally make the long-predicted “pivot” from primary candidate-as-flame-thrower to a more “presidential” kind of Trump.
After all, Trump himself is a man who believes in trusting family first. His brother Robert has been a top Trump Organization executive since the 1980s. Meanwhile, his grown children joined him in the family business shortly after finishing school. As he explained to me several times, he values in-born talent over experience and thus assumes that his children are a talented product of the family bloodline.
“I have a gift for land,” Trump told me once, inferring that he inherited his real estate ability from his father. Presumably he believes he passed along this gift and others to his children. Regardless, he likely also recognizes in them a style and sensibility that are more mainstream and moderate than his own.
The reality is that the Trump children are far more measured in their way of speaking and in their political views. They also grew up in an America that is increasingly diverse and multicultural — as millennials, they have their generation’s social outlook, which is more concerned with equality and respect for others. (Donald, in contrast, told me, “You can’t respect most people because most people don’t deserve respect.”)
Still, the whole idea of a different kind of Donald Trump defies the self-branding he has practiced this far. The original Trump is the one who doubles down on outrageous statements, refuses to apologize and wants to be viewed as unwavering. He is the one who garnered more than 13 million primary votes and vanquished 16 rival Republicans. One therefore has to wonder if a more politically correct, moderate Trump might actually lose more ground as his core followers come to doubt his convictions. If this happens, don’t expect Trump to waste any time bringing Lewandowski back, because if there’s one person he trusts more than his own children, it’s himself.