The key to survival in Donald Trump’s orbit is knowing that you’re really only ever performing for an audience of one. Lose his approval and trust and you’re out. When Kellyanne Conway says that “a lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win” or Stephen Miller shouts that Trump’s national security actions “will not be questioned,” they’re fulfilling their one true duty, which is as much speaking to the boss as for the boss.
These performances are usually done on television, but television has the advantage of being built for short-attention spans. Let Trump Be Trump, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie’s new campaign memoir, gives the audience-of-one schtick a book-length treatment. This repetitive, sycophantic, and self-serving book, which is oddly written in the third person, is meant to ingratiate themselves to Trump—or “the boss,” as he’s referred to again and again—a man whose intellect, leadership, and stamina they praise for a tiresome 264 pages. The unintentional effect is a portrait of a temperamental, thin-skinned, and profoundly needy man at the helm.
Let Trump Be Trump is the first book to have been published by Trump campaign insiders, and early coverage has fixated on its gossipy tidbits, of which there are many. These stories have mostly fixated on Trump’s stomach-churning diet—Filet-O-Fish, Big Macs, Vienna Fingers, Oreos, gallons of Diet Coke—and Hope Hicks steaming Trump’s suit pants while Trump was wearing those pants.
There are a few items that could, I suppose, be described as newsworthy. Lewandowski describes the Muslim ban as being a cynical political calculation: “For us, the decision was simple,” he writes. “We wanted none of the other candidates to move to the right of us on immigration.” Lewandowski and Bossie both despise former campaign chair Paul Manafort and relish in the details of his firing, despite the fact that neither were technically part of the campaign in August of 2016. (Lewandowski was fired in June, although he remained on the payroll and in contact with the campaign; Bossie joined as deputy campaign manager in September.)
In their telling, Trump was horrified by Manafort’s shady dealings and ties to Russian oligarchs. When Trump became aware in August of a $12.7 million payment from a Ukrainian political party, he was aghast: “I’ve got a crook running my campaign,” he reputedly said, before ordering Steve Bannon to fire Manafort. Lewandowski and Bossie also allege that Manafort asked for a “$5 million check to be cut for a media buy that sounded vague at best.” (The campaign’s COO refused.)
Manafort alone gets two chapters in the book (including one titled “Thurston Howell III”), and it becomes evident that Lewandowski blames Manafort for his own firing. This personal animosity makes the Manafort sections in Let Trump Be Trump unique: They have a ring of truth. Manafort is portrayed as an amoral, manipulative, elitist jerk whose very existence runs in opposition to the grassroots, populist campaign that Lewandowski helped build.
But this is ultimately a happy coincidence. A reader would come away from this book with the impression that the campaign’s shady dealings were limited to Manafort. Michael Flynn is barely mentioned; Jared Kushner only has a bit part, as does Donald Trump Jr. Let Trump Be Trump largely sweeps Russian interference in the 2016 election under the rug. (However, the Manafort sections confirm the veracity of one aspect of the Steele dossier, which reported that Lewandowski, “who hated MANAFORT personally and remained close to TRUMP,” was foremost among the senior Trump officials pushing the campaign chair out.)
The majority of Let Trump Be Trump is devoted to two contradictory arguments. The first is that Lewandowski is the real architect of the Trump campaign and its success. The second is that Trump is a genius and the greatest politician in history. Let Trump Be Trump is the attempt to suture these ideas together, which culminates in the epiphany that the best way to win is to let Trump do whatever he feels like.
The problem is that pure, uncut Trump is intolerable, even by Lewandowski and Bossie’s lights. In one of the few honest moments in the book, they write, “Sooner or later, everybody who works for Donald Trump will see a side of him that makes you wonder why you took a job with him in the first place. His wrath is never intended as any personal offense, but sometimes it can be hard not to take it that way. The mode that he switches into when things aren’t going his way can feel like an all-out assault; it’d break most hardened men and women into little pieces.”
Trump’s temper tantrums are meant to exemplify his leadership qualities—that he demands greatness from others and goes ballistic when his high expectations aren’t met. In Let Trump Be Trump, Manafort’s underhandedness results in one such outburst, but so does Sam Nunberg making a convoluted order at Wendy’s. Lewandowski blames his own firing, in part, on sending Ivanka and Jared Kushner to an Iowa caucus site that lacked Trump volunteers or literature.
The sheer effusiveness of praise for Trump in Let Trump Be Trump is embarrassing. It also suggests a person who is desperate for constant, Stalin-esque praise from advisers who should be confronting him with difficult truths. Open up Let Trump Be Trump at random and you’ll find sentences like this: “Donald Trump’s mind works differently than most. His thoughts sometimes come out like pieces of a puzzle. It’s only later when you put the pieces together that you realize how much they’re worth. Sometimes the puzzle pieces form a masterpiece.”
Watching Trump vociferously defend his claim that John McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured by the Vietnamese, Lewandowski realizes: “He had never seen a candidate have such courage in his convictions. No matter how hard the press pushed him, Trump wasn’t backing down from his words.”
Lewandowski and Bossie even suggest that Trump is a student of Jungian psychology:
Although the mainstream media and other haters give him little credit for his intellect, Donald Trump has more than a fundamental grasp on a surprising number of fields, including Jungian psychology. One of his favorite books is Memory, Dreams, Reflections, Jung’s autobiography. Steve Bannon insists that Trump came up with the idea of the names Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Low-Energy Jeb, and, later, Crooked Hillary, from his knowledge of Jungian archetypes.
If Lewandowski and Bossie had ever attended a creative writing class, they’d know the value of showing, not telling. Let Trump Be Trump, however, is all telling. Trump is a genius, we read again and again. He’s a “blue-collar billionaire” motivated by a desire to help cab drivers. He’s generous and big-hearted, which is why duplicity and back-stabbing upset him so much. Unfortunately, there’s very little in Let Trump Be Trump that backs up any of these claims—they’re just repeated until they become a kind of dull, obsequious wallpaper.
But providing genuine insight into the 2016 campaign isn’t what Let Trump Be Trump is about. Rather, it’s an attempt to curry favor with their former boss at a moment when both are on the outside. Let Trump Be Trump is a reminder that they’re still loyal—and still ready to serve—a 264-page “I want you back” letter. There’s nothing really in here of interest to Trump’s detractors or his supporters—there’s nothing here for readers, in general. It’s a book for an audience of one. Unfortunately for Lewandowski and Bossie, their intended audience isn’t much of a reader.