By abruptly sacking his campaign manager, Donald Trump sought to end an internal power struggle that persistently undermined his White House bid. But if Corey Lewandowski’s departure Monday was supposed to end doubts about Trump or the direction of his struggling campaign, it apparently did neither.
“He’s going to be the nominee; that doesn’t change. The real question is his viability in a general election,” said Tom Rath, a longtime Republican strategist in New Hampshire, who backed Ohio Gov. John Kasich over Trump in the rancorous Republican nominating fight.
“What you want is clear direction and a coherent strategy that allows you to get to 270 electoral votes,” Rath said. “If you didn’t have that confidence before, you don’t have it now.”
Lewandowski, who was unceremoniously escorted from Trump’s Manhattan headquarters, lost his job after weeks of inner turmoil that came to a head last week when Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, delivered a him-or-me ultimatum, according to one campaign insider.
The dismissal put Manafort, a seasoned Washington operative, fully in charge at a moment when Trump is facing growing restiveness in the GOP less than a month before its national nominating convention in Cleveland.
With three of Trump’s adult children pushing for Lewandowski’s ouster, the firing came during a Monday morning strategy session.
“Sooner or later it was going to come to this and it was going to come to this pivotal moment where you had to choose one,” said the insider, who requested anonymity to discuss the campaign’s internal workings. “The kids helped him understand he had to choose sides.”
Confirming his siblings’ involvement, Donald Trump Jr. told Bloomberg Politics the firing “was the right and appropriate decision to make.”
“You need one guy running the day-do-day aspects of the campaign,” Trump said. “To have more than that, you’re just going to stumble over yourselves.”
Some Republicans suggested, hopefully, that the move could represent a turning point, ending the fractiousness that has split Donald Trump’s campaign, and perhaps leading to a steadier performance by the candidate whose top advisors — the combative Lewandowski and by-the-book Washington insider Manafort — counseled drastically different approaches.
“You can’t have warring factions within a campaign,” said Dick Wadhams, a GOP strategist and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. “We’ve seen Trump move to put his campaign in order. Now it’s time for the candidate to get himself in order.”
Lewandowski, 42, was one of Trump’s earliest and most pugnacious supporters. A New Hampshire-seasoned campaign operative who had no previous experience running a presidential campaign, Lewandowski was credited with orchestrating Trump’s unlikely rise during the primary season.
Lewandowski has also been a controversial figure; most notably he was criminally charged with manhandling a reporter at a Florida campaign event. The misdemeanor charges were eventually dropped, but his brawling reputation, which he encouraged in Trump, was firmly fixed.
The campaign shake-up followed weeks of growing concerns within the GOP about Trump’s lagging fundraising and failure to build the infrastructure typical of a modern presidential campaign. Lewandowski was blamed inside the campaign for slowing its hiring decisions.
Manafort joined the campaign in March to professionalize the operation and help lead Trump’s delegate-hunting effort.
His portfolio was soon expanded to include, among others charges, oversight of next month’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Like many aspects of the Trump campaign, the open nature of the infighting has been highly unusual. Just after word of Lewandowski’s departure surfaced, one of Trump’s advisors tweeted, “Ding dong the witch is dead!,” with a link to the video of the song from “The Wizard of Oz.”
The advisor, Michael Caputo, quit later Monday, saying in his resignation letter his response “was too exuberant a reaction to this personnel move.”
In some regards, parting ways with a campaign manager during troubled times is not unusual. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Al Gore and George W. Bush all shook up their presidential campaigns at various stages.
None, however, did so this close to their party’s national convention.
“Getting rid of a campaign manager is not something undertaken lightly, especially for someone like Trump, who prizes loyalty,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee. “It was because pressure for change was coming from many different directions, that it was getting loud, and that it could no longer be ignored…. Something drastic needed to be done.”
In cable TV appearances Monday, Lewandowski had only positive things to say about his former boss.
“I wouldn’t change one second of my time with Mr. Trump other than to say, ‘Thank you, it’s been an honor,’” Lewandowski said on MSNBC.
On CNN, he repeatedly insisted that Trump was correct in taking numerous controversial stands, including his proposal for an open-ended ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. and, most recently, advocating racial profiling by law enforcement.
“He has had his finger on the pulse of the American public for the last 16 or 18 months of this campaign,” Lewandowski said. “… Mr. Trump has unparalleled success in the business world. He’s now unparalleled success in the world of politics.”
Lewandowski professed his continue loyalty, saying he planned to attend next month’s GOP national convention in Cleveland as leader of New Hampshire’s delegation.
Since securing the nomination early last month, Trump has prompted a backlash with his public comments and style, even from fellow members of the GOP, who assailed him for asserting that an Indiana-born judge is a “Mexican” who could not rule fairly in a fraud lawsuit against Trump.
Trump drew further criticism after the Orlando, Fla., massacre, bragging that he had predicted the attack, and repeating his call to stop Muslims from entering the country.
Some Republicans have renewed attempts to plot an open convention next month in a long-shot bid to replace Trump with a more philosophically conservative, temperamentally moderate alternative.
The candidate is also plagued by organizational and tactical concerns.
The Clinton campaign and its allies, for example, have spent more than $23 million in television ads in eight potential battleground states — Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire — while Trump has spent nothing.
The asymmetrical nature of the battle could prove crucial as voters begin to cement their impressions of the candidates. Four years ago, Romney was battered by a barrage of negative advertising during the weeks before the parties’ summer conventions.
Trump has relied mostly on the shoot-from-the-hip style that served him well during the primaries, using social media and TV interviews to compensate for the lack of traditional tools of advertising and field operations.
But his ability to respond to Clinton is also hampered by a minuscule campaign staff, including a press operation with only a handful of staffers who can speak on his behalf — subject to contradiction and humiliation by their boss.
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Twitter: @noahbierman, @markzbarabak
7:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with new quotes, analysis and details throughout.
2:22 p.m.: This article has been updated with another Trump advisor resigning after tweeting critically about Lewandowski.
12:51 p.m.: This article has been was updated with comments from former Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom.
11:29 a.m.: This article has been updated with comments from Lewandowski.
This article was originally published at 9:21 a.m.