President-elect Donald Trump says he is still committed to “draining the swamp” in D.C. despite recent admissions from top surrogates that his infamous campaign catch-phrase hasn’t been applied as vigorously as expected.
The slogan was simple yet powerful for his supporters, and even caught the attention of anti-establishment figures on the left like Bernie Sanders. But less than one month before he is officially sworn in as president, Trump has taken heat for controversial, decidedly un-populist appointments to his administration, which Sanders and some conservatives have said is a clear violation of the pledge he made to his voters.
The saga began Wednesday morning, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—once considered a potential running mate for Trump—said the president-elect “disclaims” the phrase and wants to use more “dignified” language.
“He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore,” Gingrich told NPR.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s ex-campaign manager who recently opened a consulting firm based half a block from the White House to boost Trump from the outside, echoed Gingrich on Thursday morning.
“Look, I think if you had to put [Trump’s priorities] in a chronological order, ‘drain the swamp’ is somewhere down the bottom as opposed to getting tax reform done, making sure middle-class people have more jobs, making sure we’re re-negotiating our bad trade deals, ensuring that we’re fixing Obamacare,” Lewandowski said during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
“So ‘draining the swamp’ is part of a larger narrative, but what it’s really about is putting people back to work,” he added.
That runs counter to what Trump said on the campaign trail. The president-elect repeatedly characterized the nation’s capital as a cesspool of big-money special interests, corporate lobbyists, and rampant corruption. He pledged to “drain” Washington of its insiders, Wall Street influencers, and career politicians.
“For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests, they partner with these people who don’t have your good in mind,” Trump remarked in comments that were featured in the “Argument to America” advertisement he ran the weekend before Election Day.
Since defeating Hillary Clinton in the election, though, Trump has appointed individuals to top posts who are arguably part of the exact “swamp” he decried on the campaign trail.
He tapped Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and hedge fund investor, to run the Treasury Department; he appointed Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn to be his top economic adviser; he nominated Elaine Chao, former labor secretary and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to be transportation secretary; and he asked Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical, to head up his manufacturing council. (Liveris was caught up in the very same pay-for-play allegations at the Clinton-led State Department for which Trump and his surrogates hammered the Democratic nominee.)
To that end, Trump attempted on Thursday to corral Gingrich and Lewandowski with a scolding subtweet: “Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase ‘DRAIN THE SWAMP’ was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS.”
Just 22 minutes later, Gingrich recanted in a video posted to Twitter, saying he “made a big boo-boo.”
“I talked this morning with President-elect Donald Trump, and he reminded me he likes ‘drain the swamp,’” the former House speaker said. “I mischaracterized it the other day. He intends to ‘drain the swamp.’”
The fact that Trump and Gingrich talked on the phone indicates that Trump himself tried to clean up the mess created by his own top allies, who seemed to quickly realize that “draining the swamp” is not as enticing in real-life as it is on the campaign trail.
GOP Rep. Justin Amash, a staunch libertarian and vocal critic of Trump on the right, went after Trump last month over his business conflicts of interest, tying them to his “drain the swamp” pledge.
“You rightly criticized Hillary for Clinton Foundation. If you have contracts w/ foreign govts, it’s certainly a big deal,” Amash tweeted.
He added sarcastically: “#DrainTheSwamp.”