At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sit down with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to discuss the future of the Republican Party, what he sees as the strategy for Republicans to retake the House in 2022, and Lara Trump’s potential Senate candidacy.
Jan Jekielek: We’re here with Corey Lewandowski, CPAC 2021. The theme is “America Uncancelled”—a very, very fitting theme for this year. You’ve actually started a new PAC [Political Action Committee] which former President Trump has endorsed now. What is the vision here? What are you looking at doing?
Corey Lewandowski: There are a couple of things. The primary purpose of working with the former president is to make sure that he will have the resources necessary to continue to articulate his America First message to the American people. Because what we’re seeing in the big picture is the cancel culture. It is the intolerant Left going after everybody, the intolerant left endorsing violence. What we saw under Trump’s four years was a place where you could be proud to call yourself an American again. We didn’t have to apologize to be a resident of the greatest country in the world.
I think what we’ll see over the next four years, particularly under Joe Biden, is going to be an embracing of a globalist agenda which is, once again, attacking America for its greatness. This PAC is going to make sure Donald Trump has the resources necessary to fight back on that leftist progressive agenda.
Mr. Jekielek: This is very interesting because we don’t really know what the former president is going to be doing in the future. But his message or the whole idea, America First, is something much bigger than Trump himself.
Mr. Lewandowski: It is, and there’s a couple things that we know for sure. President Trump’s endorsement, particularly in Republican primaries going into 2022, is going to be essential for any candidate who wants to win. We see that he’s already endorsed one candidate in Ohio against Anthony Gonzalez, the Republican congressman who voted to impeach him. That’s going to be the determining factor on the success, I believe, in that race for Congress.
The goal of the former president and myself and including Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, is to ensure that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are not the leaders in Washington D.C. anymore. We may have a different way to get there, [but] our objectives are the same. It’s very important that the America First agenda continues to be at the forefront of what the American people are talking about.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve been talking about endorsing some of these primary challengers. For example, are you going to be supporting Max Miller, a primary challenger?
Mr. Lewandowski: You bet. The former president already endorsed Max Miller in the Ohio 16th congressional district against Anthony Gonzalez. Catalina Lauf in Illinois is running against Adam Kinzinger. Adam Kinzinger has been on the record saying, “You have to impeach Donald Trump,”—a man who had already left office. He also voted to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from all of her committee assignments.
What I don’t understand is how these individuals, these members of Congress, can stop representing their district and don’t think there’s any recourse at the ballot box, both in Ohio and Illinois? Those are districts that our Republicans are going to win, and those Republicans will ultimately vote for a Republican leader to run the House of Representatives.
I don’t necessarily believe we want to be involved in races where a Republican could win a primary but not the general election. We want to go after those Republicans in districts where we believe we can win the primary and the general election because our goal is the same—retire Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House.
Mr. Jekielek: That is interesting. Of course, one of the folks that I believe there’s a lot of interest in primarying among the America First folks is Liz Cheney. How are people being vetted for this sort of primary challenge? Do you have a sense of this?
Mr. Lewandowski: It’s a great question because what we have in Wyoming—which is a statewide district, one member of Congress represents the whole state—we’ve got six, seven, or eight candidates who all think that they’re the best candidate to beat Liz Cheney. The problem with that is, in a multi-candidate field, the incumbent has an advantage—name ID, money, recognition, which means if we have six or seven candidates running, she may have the chance to get through a primary.
Now, I believe they’re going to change the rules in Wyoming and that would then require a runoff if you don’t get over 50 percent. That’s very good news for the Trump candidate. The former president will choose, I believe, and a small group of advisors will help him make some recommendations on who he ultimately endorses in that race, but I can assure you, it will not be Liz Cheney.
Mr. Jekielek: Who should we have on our radar for people that will be trying to primary some of these other Republicans?
Mr. Lewandowski: I would look at the South Carolina race in the Rice seat. That’s a race where it’s a Myrtle Beach district, it goes up northwest from Myrtle Beach, it’s a very Republican district, and a good strong candidate can absolutely win in that district.
I go back to Illinois, I go to Ohio, and obviously, Wyoming. Those right now are the priorities for the House. I believe if we win any or all of those in the primary, those candidates will go on to be the general election victor as well and help us ensure we have a Republican majority in 2022.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, your PAC is going to be really pushing forward this America First agenda that President Trump governed on. Is this the sole message that will unify this future Republican Party as you’re envisioning it?
Mr. Lewandowski: No, the message of the Republican Party has been and will always be smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation. Governor Noem talked about this yesterday. The government comes in and takes over our lives.
First, they destroyed our economy, and then they told us that they were going to be the saviors. First, they told us one mask was fine, now they tell us five is probably better. First, Anthony Fauci said, “Give us 15 days to flatten the curve.” That was a year ago. They’re saying, “Even if you’ve gotten the vaccine, don’t go see your grandchildren.” Every time they’ve given us advice, it’s been wrong.
So the message of the Republican Party is personal responsibility. It is making decisions which are important to you that are going to affect you and your lives, while giving you the opportunity to earn a living. People still have to go out and go to work every day. Our children still need to be in the schools to learn every day.
What we’ve seen from the Left, and particularly from the government now, is they want to tell you what is best for your family. They want to determine when your children should go to school, when the schools will open, how you can shop, which businesses are essential and which ones aren’t.
Walmart never closed, and I’m happy for the shareholders of Walmart, but mom and pop stores on the corner were forced to close because they were deemed non-essential. I don’t think the government has any legal authority to tell you that your business is, or is not essential.
I live in the state of New Hampshire. Some of the policies that those governments put in place there said, “You can open a restaurant, but you have to sit outside.” It’s cold in New Hampshire, it’s four degrees half the time. Do you really want to be sitting outside? But the restaurants had no choice because if not, they were going under. So we have to be vigilant in holding the government accountable and that’s part of what the Republican party must do.
Mr. Jekielek: We have this model in Florida, which obviously is very different from New Hampshire and New York, where I am, these days. Frankly, a lot of these are happening at the state level. How are you imagining this at a federal level?
Mr. Lewandowski: I think the federal government is completely broken—fundamentally broken. What we saw under Donald Trump’s administration was the cutting of red tape and the cutting of the bureaucracy, and returning the power to the states where it should be.
At the end of the day, most of the members of the mainstream media praised Governor Cuomo for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic after he got his Emmy, after he wrote his book on it. Now, he’s got multiple allegations against him that most of the media doesn’t even want to cover. By contrast, they chastise and ridicule Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida, they chastise and they ridicule Governor Noem in South Dakota for the way that they handled it, because it wasn’t the way the media wanted them to handle it.
I think people are smart. What you’re seeing is a mass exodus from states like New Jersey and New York to places where you can continue to have a business, you can continue to have a life, you can continue to earn a living, and the weather is much better. So what you see is people voting with their pocketbooks, and people voting and living in places where their economic freedoms are available to them. That’s going to be very detrimental long term to New York, and the question is, can New York City ever recover from the draconian policies of Governor Cuomo? I’m not sure it can.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re seeing the reality of New York and it’s certainly very, very difficult for a lot of local businesses, at least in my area in Manhattan. It’s unbelievable.
Mr. Lewandowski: I lived up on East 61st Street on the Upper East Side. We had these great little restaurants you go to at night, a very small kind of community even though you’re in Manhattan. I had an apartment there in East 61st Street and it’s really a small town environment even though you’re in that big, giant city.
All of a sudden, all those businesses, you go back to them, and they’re either out of business, or they’ve had to change ownership, or they’re asking you to sit on the sidewalk when I go back there now. It’s terrible what has happened to these small business owners. Again, the big businesses, they’ve been able to thrive and succeed because of their lobbying ability, because of their size and their prowess. I’m not knocking those guys. I want everyone to stay open.
My brother-in-law works at a supermarket. He was deemed an essential employee so he went to work every single day because he had to provide that, and I’m glad he got to do that. But when you say that he can go to work but others can’t, there’s something wrong with that. Our first responders had to go to work every day, but if our teachers don’t want to go into the schools and teach our kids anymore, then we can find them a new profession. There are more opportunities out there for them if they don’t want to do that.
I believe my 10-year-old learns best when he’s in the classroom interacting with his colleagues, interacting with his classmates, having fun and learning, and not sitting behind a computer at my home with three other kids who are all trying to do the same thing. It’s a really, really hard thing and the stress on the children, we’ve seen this, is astronomical.
It’s a shame because some of these kids who don’t go into the classroom are off the grid. They may never be seen from again. They’re not getting the welfare check that they should get from the schools and not getting the meals that they should get. So that should be the biggest concern—making sure our children are getting what they need even in a pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: As we finish up, let me try to get a little intel here. Lara Trump for Senate—is this happening?
Mr. Lewandowski: I hope so. I’m a great fan of Lara. She and Eric [Trump] are amazing people. They’ve got two young kids. Here’s what I would say to them: Why would you want to do this? I love you, [but] this is like if the dog catches the car, then what do you do? What if you actually go and win, which you would win—then you’ve got to serve.
My problem is, Washington is so fundamentally broken that I don’t know if it’s a good thing anymore. This is a guy who grew up loving politics. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I have no tangible skills, so I get involved in politics. I couldn’t do what you do everyday.
So my problem is, you go to Washington, D.C. and then Mitch McConnell or some other leader tells you what committee you get to sit on, how you have to vote, you got to do this, you got to do that. I think Lara Trump—and she would be an amazing United States senator if she decided to run because she would win—she has more influence and more opportunity to drive a narrative today being on the outside than being stuck in a broken system.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying this, but your PAC is focusing on primary-ing and winning a whole bunch of seats in 2022, as far as I can tell.
Mr. Lewandowski: True. Lara Trump’s megaphone is massive, and she has such convictions as to what she believes in. I know a number of the U.S. Senators. You ask them, “How much of your job do you love?” They say, “I love 20 percent. The other 80 percent is things I have to do. I can only work so much time on my specific issue, whether it’s human trafficking or whatever the issue is that they want to prevent from moving forward.” It’s really hard when you’re inside that system.
There are great people who should run for office and will run for office, and those are the people we’re going to support. I’ve looked at this, and the former president wanted me to run for office in New Hampshire. I said, “What if I actually won?” And I would have won, that’s the problem. I said, “I would have to go to Washington, D.C., and work with some of these lunatics.”
As much as I’d want to do it to help the people, I think being a governor is a much better chief executive role than being 1 out of 100 U.S. Senators, or 1 out of 435 members of Congress, because every decision you make as a governor has a direct impact on the people’s lives in that state almost immediately. We’ve seen that with the different ways that the governors have responded to this pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: The former president is going to speak today. When’s the last time you spoke with him? What are you expecting?
Mr. Lewandowski: I was with the former president on Thursday. I spent a few hours with him. We talked. We went through some of the bullet points in his speech. He’s going to reaffirm that he does not want to have a third party, that he is going to be part of and the head of the Republican Party—he’s going to reaffirm that today. He’s going to talk about what he believes Biden is going to do to this country over the next four years.
We’ve already seen a military strike in Syria in the first 30 days of this administration. We’ve seen getting away from an America First agenda to embrace China, to allow once again, our companies to be subjected to the will of other countries. If we learned anything in the pandemic, we learned that we must have production of the important assets here in this country, and not be reliant on China and other places—that’s what Donald Trump did.
That’s what Joe Biden is going to back away from. He’s going to say, “If you want, take your company and ship it back overseas for cheap labor.” That’s exactly what Obama did and that’s the philosophy that Joe Biden subscribes to. That is detrimental both to American jobs and American security.
Mr. Jekielek: Before we finish up, to be fair, he has talked about wanting to study these supply chains before furthering China connections. What do you think he will come to?
Mr. Lewandowski: Joe Biden studying a supply chain? He’s been in office for 50 years. What do you have to study? Either you know or you don’t know what has happened. What we know, unequivocally, was we were subjected to getting masks from China because we didn’t have a production facility here.
Think about it—330 million people and our country couldn’t get us the ventilators and masks because we stopped producing them here and we had to rely on China. What did we see? We saw that governors started trying to buy direct from China, [and] were getting ripped off.
The KN95, which Fauci told us was the only one that was any good, were all forgeries. They were fakes. We saw the videos of it all the time. We have to be accountable and responsible for our own people right here. It’s a national security issue when we can’t provide our own people [with] the tools they need to fight a pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: Corey Lewandowski, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Mr. Lewandowski: Thank you so much for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.