At around 9:30 Monday morning, Donald Trump and his adult children gathered for a regular strategy meeting at Trump Tower. Also present were senior staff, including Corey Lewandowski, the campaign’s embattled manager. With Trump coming off one of the worst weeks of his campaign — a stretch that included racist attacks on a federal judge, renewed calls in the wake of the Orlando massacre to ban Muslim immigrants, and sinking poll numbers — the candidate’s children, who have been involved in strategy from the beginning, saw an opening to achieve a shared goal: Fire Lewandowski.
According to two sources briefed on the events, the meeting was a setup. Shortly after it began, the children peppered Lewandowski with questions, asking him to explain the campaign’s lack of infrastructure. “They went through the punch list. ‘Where are we with staffing? Where are we with getting the infrastructure built?’” one source explained. Their father grew visibly upset as he heard the list of failures. Finally, he turned to Lewandowski and said, “What’s your plan here?”
Lewandowski responded that he wanted to leak Trump’s vice-president pick.
And with that, Lewandowski was out. Trump has long viewed announcing his running mate at the GOP convention next month as a valuable card to play. He was shocked that Lewandowski didn’t have any other ideas. Shortly after the meeting, Lewandowski was escorted out of the building by Trump security.
Lewandowski did not respond to calls for comment. Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, did not provide additional details behind the campaign’s press release.
Lewandowski’s dismissal has been in the works for weeks, and it marks the culmination of an intense lobbying campaign by Trump’s three oldest children — Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr. — as well as allies of campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who eclipsed Lewandowski to some extent when Trump brought him on earlier this year. For most of the campaign, Trump remained loyal to Lewandowski even during his many scandals, such as the battery charge for allegedly roughing up a female Breitbart News reporter. But in recent weeks, according to sources, Lewandowski crossed lines that ultimately gave his detractors enough ammunition to convince Trump to dump him.
Sources said one of Lewandowski’s mistakes was leaking dirt about Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, to reporters. Word of Lewandowski’s whisper campaign made its way back to Manafort allies. Other Lewandowski detractors told Trump that the soap opera around Lewandowski was getting the campaign off message. And they were also frustrated that Lewandowski seemed to encourage Trump’s worst behavior, including his attempts to delegitimize the Indiana-born federal judge presiding over Trump University by describing him as a “Mexican.”
But no matter how rocky things got, Lewandowski’s position was, until recently, strengthened by the fact that Trump was winning. Despite his inexperience and hot temper, he held on to his post because whatever he was doing (or not doing) was working. But now with Trump’s poll numbers falling well behind Hillary Clinton’s, Lewandowski lost his bulwark — and Trump was finally willing to fire him. As one adviser put it to me: “The real lesson here is everyone is expendable except for the kids. It’s tribal.”