Even Donald Trump fired Corey Lewandowski. In 2016, Lewandowski lost his job as Trump’s original campaign manager, after clashes with Trump’s children and controversies that included an accusation that Lewandowski man-handled a female reporter. Then, in 2020, Lewandowski was removed from his role overseeing a Trump super PAC, after a Republican donor accused him of inappropriately touching her.
That troubling job history didn’t stop Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl from proudly announcing Lewandowski’s new role as senior campaign adviser. Recognizing a gift when she sees it, Attorney General Maura Healey, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, quickly fund-raised off the Lewandowski news, saying the hiring of Trump’s former campaign manager makes it “clearer than ever” that Diehl’s agenda “is fueled by hate and division.” In a statement, Lewandowski dismissed attacks from the left and the media as “nothing new.”
What is new is Diehl’s unabashed hunt for votes in contrarian Trumpachusetts. In 2020, about 1.1 million Massachusetts residents voted for Trump. That’s 35 percent of the total vote, versus the 65 percent that went to Joe Biden. While Trumpachusetts could give Diehl the Republican nomination, it doesn’t look like a successful path to the governor’s office. Trump is supposedly poison in this state. Still, Trump endorsed Diehl, and even though Governor Charlie Baker denies it, that endorsement may have played a role in Baker’s decision not to seek a third term.
By the look of her donor list, the Democratic establishment is betting that Healey is the next governor. Yet with Baker out of the running, this race feels oddly unanchored. For sure, Healey is the clear front-runner in a primary that pits her against two little-known progressive challengers. But so far, she seems torn between insisting she’s a “proud progressive” and running as a more centrist candidate who could appeal to those unenrolled or independent voters who make up about 57 percent of all registered Massachusetts voters.
Historically, running as a good fiscal steward and manager is what helps Republicans win election as governor. But Diehl isn’t running that way. Instead, he’s trying to portray Healey as too “woke” even for Massachusetts. For example, he highlighted words she spoke after protesters took to the streets following the 2020 murder of George Floyd: ”Yes, America is burning. But that’s how forests grow,” Healey said in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Jennifer Nassour, a past chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, is a moderate Republican who doesn’t support Diehl and believes “the Trump message is not a winning message in Massachusetts.” Still, Nassour thinks that kind of rhetoric from Healey is unhelpful. “You have to show the voters you are not AOC (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York). You are running for the job of governor. You need to govern. You need to get along with everyone, including people who don’t agree with you,” said Nassour.
Framing Healey as an extremist is where Lewandowski comes in. As he told Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas, he joined the Diehl campaign to help “stop the far left from taking over the state.” Last week, Lewandowski also tweeted his delight over the recent vote by the Republican National Committee to formally censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois over their participation in the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. It’s hard to see how that, plus Lewandowski’s personal baggage, helps Diehl.
During the 2016 campaign, Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery after a reporter accused him of grabbing her as she approached Trump after a campaign event; the charge was later dropped. Last September, he was removed from his job overseeing a super PAC supporting Trump after a Republican donor accused him of unwanted sexual advances. “He repeatedly touched me inappropriately, said vile and disgusting things to me, and made me feel violated and fearful,” Trashelle Odom told The New York Times. In October, The Daily Beast reported Lewandowski was no longer allowed on Trump properties or at Trump parties.
Yet, according to the Herald, Lewandowski still advises Trump. He does have a habit of falling in and out of Trump’s orbit, where appropriate behavior is a very low bar. Meanwhile, in this governor’s race, Diehl will be judged by the company he keeps, and right now that includes Lewandowski.