Sen. Corey Lewandowski? Donald Trump likes the idea; some GOPers don’t
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump returned to New Hampshire on Thursday while touting the aspirations of a controversial ex-campaign aide whose prospective Senate candidacy in the Granite State is already splitting state Republicans.
Corey Lewandowski, the first manager of Trump’s renegade 2016 presidential campaign, is now considering a challenge to incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, though he would first face a primary among Republicans who have feuded with him for years.
“I’m going to get a lot of support if I run,” Lewandowski told USA TODAY in an interview.
But some New Hampshire Republicans predicted that many party stalwarts would work against Lewandowski, an aggressive anti-establishment conservative and longtime Trump ally who has clashed for years with the state GOP establishment.
The possible result, they said: A divisive primary that produces a weakened nominee against Shaheen in a state Trump himself may need to carry if he is to win re-election.
“It certainly has long-term Republicans shaking their heads,” said Fergus Cullen, a former state chairman of the New Hampshire Republicans.
Trump: Lewandowski would be ‘hard to beat’
Lewandowski has yet to announce his candidacy, but Trump – who narrowly lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election – has signaled support for the idea of his former aide’s possible Senate bid. If he won, Lewandowski would be a key ally for Trump’s administration in a GOP-led chamber that has sometimes spurned it.
During the rally in Manchester, Trump told a cheering crowd that Lewandowski “loves your state” and “I think he’d be tough to beat” in a Senate race. The president also joked that he couldn’t yet endorse his former campaign manager because he doesn’t know if he will actually run.
“So, Corey, let us know, please,” Trump said during his first return to the Granite State since moving into the White House in 2017.
Lewandowski, who was at the rally, has said he will take his time deciding because the state’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat is more than a year away.
In previewing his rally, Trump tweeted a poll showing his former campaign manager leading a potential Republican primary field in the state. Trump has used his Twitter bully pulpit to retweet Lewandowski’s posts at least four times this summer.
Trump actually fired Lewandowski as his campaign manager in 2016 after other advisers – including his children – raised questions with Trump about Lewandowski’s aggressive style. But the two men remain friendly. Lewandowski co-wrote a book last year that heaped praise on the president, and he is often seen in Trump’s orbit.
Now president of his own strategic advisory firm and a book author, Lewandowski has traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One several times. He said he discussed New Hampshire with the president during an Aug. 1 trip to a rally in Cincinnati.
“We talked about the race a little bit,” Lewandowski said. “And we’ll continue to talk about it.”
Some of the bad blood between Lewandowski and other New Hampshire Republicans stems from his 2002 stint running the re-election campaign of then-Sen. Bob Smith. Smith had left the GOP at one point to run a failed third-party presidential bid in 2000, but decided to mount a Senate re-election bid in 2002.
Smith lost a hard-fought Republican primary to John E. Sununu, a race in which Lewandowki was one of the most aggressive fighters. Sununu’s brother, Chris, is now governor of New Hampshire, and is reportedly raising objections to the prospect of a Lewandowski Senate bid.
Tom Rath, a Republican who has worked in GOP politics since the 1960s, said Lewandowski has a “brusque” manner that often rubs people the wrong way. “I don’t think you would characterize him as a team player,” Rath said.
Both Republicans and Democrats are prepared to make public a ton of opposition research on Lewandowski, should he decide to run, operatives in the state said. It ranges from an ugly property dispute with a neighbor to his physical run-in with a reporter during the Trump presidential campaign.
Democrats said they are prepared to focus on Lewandowski’s lobbying activity in the past (he has not been a federally registered lobbyist for years).
“Corey Lewandowski is a corporate shadow lobbyist with a nefarious client list that even includes foreign interests, which is why New Hampshire Republicans and Governor Chris Sununu have been keeping their distance,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
Lewandowski said he welcomes the disdain of the New Hampshire Republican establishment, casting himself as a true conservative who would appeal to a wide swath of Granite State voters who are concerned about jobs and the economy.
“I like to call them ‘country club Republicans,’ because I don’t belong to a country club,” Lewandowski said.
Uphill in New Hampshire
Both Trump and Lewandowski face headwinds in New Hampshire.
The president has spent far more time shoring up support with on the ground visits to states he won in 2016 – such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – than he has campaigning in states where Clinton won narrowly.
A Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 42% of New Hampshire adults approve of Trump and 53% disapprove. The poll showed that nearly half approve of Trump’s handling of the economy while 44% disapprove.
Just more than half of respondents had a favorable view of Shaheen in that same poll.
As for Shaheen, Lewandowski said he would try to tie her to national Democrats who believe in higher taxes and more government regulations.
Political analysts said Shaheen will be hard to beat, and that Trump is also likely to face an uphill battle in the state. Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said that Trump’s approval ratings are “basically stuck in the mid- to low-40s in New Hampshire.”
Lewandowski will also have to confront whatever baggage Trump brings to New Hampshire. The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Lewandowski on Thursday about potential obstruction of justice by Trump. Trump had asked Lewandowski, who didn’t work in the White House at the time, to urge then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the Russia investigation or tell Sessions that he was fired, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Lewandowski didn’t carry out the directive.
The New Hampshire Republican primary for the Senate isn’t until September of 2020.
Lewandowski said he is no hurry to make a final decision, and the views of the Republican establishment won’t factor into his decision.
“I’m not beholden to anybody and that scares them.”
Contributing: Bart Jansen