NEW YORK (AP) — Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has forced out his hard-charging campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, in a dramatic shakeup designed to calm panicked Republican leaders and reverse one of the most tumultuous stretches of Trump’s unconventional White House bid.
Lewandowski, in some ways as brash and unconventional as the candidate himself, had been by Trump’s side since the beginning of his unlikely rise to presumptive GOP nominee. But he clashed with longtime operatives brought in to make the seat-of-the-pants campaign more professional. He played a central role in daily operations, fundraising, and Trump’s search for a running mate, but Lewandowski’s aggressive approach also fueled near-constant campaign infighting that complicated Trump’s shift toward the general election.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks described Lewandowski’s departure as a “parting of ways.” A person close to Trump said Lewandowski was forced out largely because of his poor relationship with the Republican National Committee and GOP officials. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
The move came as Trump faced continued deep resistance from many quarters of his party concerned by his contentious statements and his reluctance to engage in traditional fundraising. Trump was upset that so many Republicans – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell among them – were reluctant to support him, the person said, and at least partially blamed Lewandowski.
Lewandowski has long been a controversial figure in Trump’s campaign, but benefited from his proximity to the presumptive Republican nominee. Often mistaken for a member of the candidate’s security team, he traveled with Trump on his private plane to nearly every campaign stop, giving him more direct access to the businessman than nearly any other campaign staffer.
He was a chief promoter of the idea that the best campaign strategy was to “Let Trump be Trump.” He frequently dismissed the notion that Trump needed to hire more experienced political hands, spend on polling and sophisticated data operations, and moderate his rhetoric as he moved toward the general election. That approach clashed with seasoned operatives hired in recent months.
Minutes after news of Lewandowski’s departure was announced, Trump aide Michael Caputo tweeted, “Ding dong the witch is dead!” and included a link to the song from the film, “The Wizard of Oz.”
Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery in the spring for an altercation involving a female reporter during a rally. The charges were later dropped. Trump defended Lewandowski throughout the episode and repeatedly framed his own actions as a sign of loyalty and a demonstration that he would not give in to outside pressure.
“Folks, look, I’m a loyal person,” Trump told voters at the time.
“It’s so important,” he said of loyalty in a subsequent interview. “And it’s one of the traits that I most respect in people. You don’t see it enough.”
Yet Lewandowski’s approach within the campaign sparked intense criticism from experienced Republican operatives inside and outside of the campaign.
The statement released by Hicks said in full: “The Donald J. Trump Campaign for President, which has set a historic record in the Republican Primary having received almost 14 million votes, has today announced that Corey Lewandowski will no longer be working with the campaign. The campaign is grateful to Corey for his hard work and dedication and we wish him the best in the future.”