A day after security escorted him out of Trump Tower, Corey Lewandowski kept a commitment he’d made weeks earlier, when he was still the manager of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Lewandowski was set to speak Tuesday evening to the $1,000-and-up donors of the New York Republican Party’s Empire Club in a 10th-floor meeting room of the tony New York Athletic Club overlooking the Central Park Zoo. But the Empire Club didn’t list the event on its website and—what with Lewandowski having lost his job the day before—it wasn’t clear if he’d be there at all until he reconfirmed hours after he was fired.
But there he was just after 6 p.m. in the club, whose website offers members benefits including luncheons with presidential candidates and policy briefings with GOP state chair (and Richard Nixon son-in-law) Ed Cox, along with a pin and your choice of scarf or tie.
The man who’d once roughed up a female reporter in defense of The Donald, shorn of his position but with his head held high, mingled with the likes of Carl Paladino, the Buffalo businessman and Trump supporter whose own run for governor was hindered by, among other things, the news that he liked sending chain emails with images of bestiality and lynching jokes; Bob Turner, the Jerry Springer show creator turned Tea Party stalwart who briefly held the congressional seat in Brooklyn and Queens that Anthony Weiner had to vacate; and a late-arriving Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor perhaps best known in recent decades for her Obamacare conspiracy theories.
Also on hand, remarkably, was Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s 27-year-old spokeswoman, who had a tearful public shouting match with Lewandowski when they were both part of the Trump team and who’d announced his firing just the day before.
Hicks, in a black cocktail dress, was joined by four other Trump staffers, also in club-required business attire, still loyal to Lewandowski. That group included John Haggerty, the ballot-access specialist who spent some time in jail for “stealing” money from Mayor Michael Bloomberg after Haggerty delivered a bribe from that billionaire-turned-politician to the New York Independence Party in exchange for its ballot line in 2009.
Finally, the sparse crowd of about four dozen, many of them enjoying the complimentary top-shelf bar, also included a Mr/s. X, who described the crowd as a “moneyed, older, and pale set.” (While there was no indication that the night was off the record, there was also no press in attendance, and X asked for anonymity in describing it to The Daily Beast.)
Lewandowski, observed X, had a clear rapport with Paladino, who recently took to NPR to say of President Obama that “A man who in every respect looks like he despises America is the leader of America” and that the American people “don’t care who the exterminator is… they just want the raccoons out of the attic.”
After the cocktails ended and a first speaker gave brief remarks calling presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a liar and possible traitor, Paladino predicted that Trump would win New York state, where polls show the Republican down 20 points, and called Lewandowski a class act.
Finally, the man of the previous hour stepped to the front of the room and spoke for about 40 minutes to the crowd, which received him warmly.
As for his own exit, Lewandowski stressed that the candidate whose catch phrase is “you’re fired” is a loyal boss, but that Trump needed to win, now. The former campaign manager compared himself to the head of a start-up company who stepped aside after successfully launching the endeavor. Just hours after telling the Today show Tuesday morning that Trump—whose campaign has about 60 paid staffers and $1.3 million in hand, compared to $42 million and nearly 700 staffers for Clinton—would hire “two, three, four hundred people,” Lewandowski told the invitation-only evening crowd to expect between 100 and 150 new staffers.
After reiterating Trump’s many calls for racial profiling and outright discrimination, Lewandowski told the ethnically mixed room that he doesn’t understand how Jews could back a Democrat after Obama’s Iran deal.
It was difficult at times, Lewandowski said, to be Trump’s messenger, referring to himself and also mentioning the difficult job that spokeswoman Katrina Pierson has in talking up on television the candidate’s unconventional and far from politically correct ideas. Still, he said, the key to victory for Trump is to let Trump be Trump.