Donald Trump has done it again. On a day where there was plenty of competing news, he managed to distract most of the media with the firing of his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
What struck me is the fact that Lewandowski, in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, had nothing negative to say. He fought off the charge that he and strategist Paul Manafort were at odds. He dismissed the notion that Ivanka Trump gave her dad an ultimatum that required Lewandowski's dismissal.
He thanked the Trump campaign for the opportunity calling it a great experience and education. He asserted that most of the staffers were his friends and that he would continue working in any way he could to help Trump be elected president.
The media’s reaction was predictable, in that, this is a sign of a campaign in serious trouble. The assertion was made that when the family is getting involved in a presidential campaign, the campaign must be in dire straits. Further, it was intimated that this decision was a result of slumping poll numbers and Lewandowski's own demeanor. He is known for the comment ‘Let Trump be Trump.’ In the interview, Bash asserted that perhaps he (Lewandowski) indulged the worst side of Trump - and that many in the campaign wanted him gone in order to force a more ‘presidential’ tone.
There's a different way to view this firing. If you had just been surprisingly fired from such a major role, you wouldn’t immediately start talking to the media (on the same day). Moreover, you would likely be very upset. Lewandowski immediately ran to the media and seemed overwhelmingly calm. There's only one explanation for this: This was a ruse.
The Trump campaign clearly knows how to hijack the media narrative and this is no exception. This is similar to Roger Stone’s resignation. Stone was Trump's top campaign advisor and he resigned in the wake of the Megyn Kelly comments about ‘blood coming out of her…wherever.’ The media reacted that Trump’s campaign was imploding. Instead, Roger Stone became an unaffiliated advocate and Trump’s poll numbers rose substantially in the wake of his resignation.
After thorough investigation, it's my belief that there was legitimate infighting within the Trump campaign about whether to pivot toward a more ‘presidential’ approach or stay the course with the disruptive, bombastic style that secured Trump the Republican nomination. Lewandowski's dismissal likely indicates a pivot is about to occur.
On CBS's Face The Nation this weekend, Trump was asked if he thought that Muslims buying bulk ammunition and weapons should get extra scrutiny. In short, Trump’s answer was “I don't know about that [except that] right now we have some pretty big problems.” That answer definitely represents a pivot toward typical, political double-speak, which I’ve been told, is ‘presidential.’
The challenge that Trump is facing is that he is a newcomer to politics. The media outlets that gave him the unfettered platforms that helped lead to his nomination has now turned on him like a snake. Most experienced political strategists have expected this to occur. Clearly, Trump felt that the style of coverage he had received as a Republican hopeful would transition into the general election - it has not.
The media has painted a (distorted) dire narrative about his actual poll numbers (many of which still show him statistically tied with Hillary Clinton), a serious redaction of context in his comments about the Trump University case and an unprecedented hysteria surrounding his assertion that Pres. Obama is at fault for the gravity of our terrorist threats and events.
The only way to distract the mainstream media from such coverage is to create a ruse that becomes bigger news than their false outrage and indignation.
What Mr. Trump failed to recognize in his transition to the general election was how promptly the media would turn even more critical about his policies and background. Trump will have unprecedented access to the media in order to correct their distortions, but without solid political coaching he will continue to step in verbal landmines planted by Clinton sympathizers.
While Trump’s ability to generate television ratings give him an advantage over Clinton, he cannot control the wake of political punditry that follows each interview. In order to earn a Hillary Clinton interview, journalists will strengthen their criticism of Trump or risk being avoided entirely. In other words, you have to be positive about Clinton and simultaneously negative regarding Trump or you will not be given access, prestige or inclusion.
As the media turns sourer on Trump, it is my belief their unprecedented ratings will suffer and they will soften their distortions as the general election approaches. They may want Hillary Clinton to be president but they want ratings and the resulting revenue even more. It’s very good news that the chaos is happening prior to the conventions, which gives Republicans plenty of time to consolidate support and pushback against distorted coverage/analysis.
For the last 30 days, Trump has made several missteps in his otherwise brilliant handling of the media. The firing of Corey Lewandowski is nothing more than a distraction in order to reset the conversation. Lewandowski will continue to be a visible pro-Trump operative just like Roger Stone.