MANCHESTER, N.H. — Corey Lewandowski stood with a bullhorn outside Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s office last week, blasting the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and declaring himself the unstoppable candidate if he were to run against Shaheen in 2020.
“If I run, I win,” Lewandowski proclaimed, as several in the crowd of 100 sign-wielding Trump supporters shouted “That’s right!” and “We need you, Corey!”
It was part of Lewandowski’s monthslong dalliance with a campaign against the two-term Democrat in his adopted state of New Hampshire. His possible candidacy is also the latest chapter in Lewandowski’s career as an in-your-face conservative combatant, relentlessly attacking not just Democrats like Shaheen but also mainstream Republicans.
A 46-year-old Lowell native with a military buzzcut, Lewandowski was plucked from relative obscurity to lead Donald Trump’s campaign in 2015 but was ousted as campaign manager after an internal power struggle, just before the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Since then, he has fashioned himself into a Trump-era star, making paid speeches to conservative groups around the country, co-writing two books about Trump (with two more on the way), and appearing almost daily as a two-fisted Trump defender on cable news.
Lewandowski also runs his own consulting business — whose clients he would be pressured to disclose, if he runs for Senate — and is a paid adviser to Vice President Mike Pence’s PAC and an unpaid adviser to Trump’s reelection campaign.
Given his broad portfolio of Trump-related roles, many question how serious he is about running for the Senate, and speculation is rampant that he is more interested in elevating his profile as a paid speaker, author, and consultant than flipping a Senate seat to the Republican Party. In recent days, Lewandowski has indicated he might be content to be a Trump supporter on cable TV, helping the president battle the impeachment inquiry.
“I don’t feel any amount of pressure to have to make a decision about getting into a Senate race, which is 11 months away,” Lewandowski said after leading the Trump rally outside Shaheen’s office last Monday.
In some ways, Lewandowski’s gamesmanship recalls Trump’s playbook in 2008 and 2012, when he floated the idea of running for president, led early polls, and visited key states before signing another contract with “The Apprentice.”
With Trumpian bravado, Lewandowski said he knows his toying with a Senate race has created a “Corey effect” — that is, keeping Republican donors on the sidelines, waiting to see if he joins three lesser-known candidates in the GOP primary.
But his flirtation has also been a boon to Shaheen, who has invoked his name in repeated fund-raising e-mails, including one in which she declares, “I don’t know about you, friends, but the idea of ‘Senator Lewandowski’ is terrifying.”
Lewandowski’s interest in the Senate race is also horrifying to many traditional New Hampshire Republicans, who accuse him of hogging the spotlight and damaging the party’s prospects in a state that Trump narrowly lost in 2016.
Dave Carney, a longtime Republican strategist, said Lewandowski is too similar to Trump to appeal to the “soft Republicans” and independents the party will need in 2020. “Shaheen will take a machete to him, and he will probably get fewer votes than the president gets in the general election,” Carney said. “We need people who will bring more voters and new voters on to our side.”
Lewandowski responded by saying he doesn’t like to “punch down” at critics like Carney and Judd Gregg, a former Republican governor and senator who has called Lewandowski a “thug.” Lewandowski has accused Gregg of getting a “military deferment for bedwetting.”
“When these so-called Republicans, these country club Republicans, say, ‘Corey Lewandowski is a Trump acolyte and he cannot win,’ that only encourages me.”
Lewandowski traces his streetfighter attitude to Lowell, where he was raised by a single mother and cut grass and shoveled snow for money. “I didn’t have a father or grandfather or brother who was a congressman, governor, or senator,” he said. “I did this all on my own. I did this with the hard work and dedication and the work ethic that I learned in Lowell.”
Lewandowski ran as a write-in candidate for a House seat in Lowell in 1994, when he was a 21-year-old political science student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. But he failed to get enough votes to qualify for the general election, blaming his misfortune on poll workers whom he accused of misplacing his ballots.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1995, Lewandowski interned for US Representative Peter Torkildsen, a Massachusetts Republican, and for Steven Panagiotakos, then a Democratic state representative from Lowell, while obtaining his master’s in political science from American University.
“He seemed to be a very serious, smart young man who had a great ethic, really wanted to learn whatever we were giving him to do,” Panagiotakos said.
Lewandowski landed one of his first real jobs in politics when he was hired in 1997 by Robert Ney, an Ohio congressman who was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2007 for charges related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Lewandowski, by his own account, spent 20 hours a day, seven days a week working for Ney until 2001. Lewandowski wasn’t “for the weak of heart,” Ney said, but grew close to the congressman, whom Lewandowski has called a “surrogate father.”
In 2002, Lewandowski managed the reelection campaign of Senator Bob Smith, a maverick New Hampshire Republican who was defeated by John E. Sununu, brother of the current governor. He then went to work for the Koch brothers’ political operation, Americans for Prosperity. At at Koch-sponsored “tax revolt” in 2010, Lewandowski debated a life-size cutout of the Democratic governor, John Lynch, mocking him for being short and slapping a “big spender” sticker on the faux governor’s lapel.
Lewandowski met Trump in 2014 at an Americans for Prosperity event in Manchester, where Trump, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz were featured speakers. A year later, Trump summoned Lewandowski to Trump Tower and asked him to run his New Hampshire campaign.
A Trump aide, however, told Trump Lewandowski wanted to be national campaign manager. Lewandowski, who had no presidential-level campaign experience, was shocked when Trump said, “You’re hired,” he recalls in “Let Trump Be Trump,” a book he wrote about the campaign with David N. Bossie, a conservative activist.
As campaign manager, he was credited with helping turn Trump from bombastic real estate executive into the presumptive Republican nominee, besting more traditional candidates, including Jeb Bush.
But he was also controversial. In 2016, Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery after he was accused of grabbing a reporter who wanted to question Trump at a rally. The charge was later dropped.
Lewandowski showcased his combative style again last month, when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee that Trump had once asked him to help curtail the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. He refused to provide details about the episode, infuriating Democrats. He also used the hearing to promote his potential Senate campaign on Twitter and acknowledged under questioning that he feels “no obligation” to be honest with the news media.
In an interview just before the Trump rally, he didn’t try to soften his hard-edged image. “Yeah, I am aggressive. You bet I am,” he said. “But I’m unapologetic to stand up and fight for what I believe in.”