Good day Austin:
On Monday, Sam Clovis announced he was no longer chairman of Rick Perry’s presidential campaign in Iowa.
On Tuesday, he introduced Donald Trump at his big rally in Dubuque. He was now national co-chairman of the Trump campaign and senior policy adviser.
Wow. That was fast.
One day, Clovis is saying that he would fly “through the gates of hell,” for Perry, and the next he is forsaking him to join the campaign of the man who Perry has called a “cancer on conservatism.”
How terrible. How treacherous.
First a little background.
Clovis’ politics make him, ideologically, something like the Ted Cruz of Iowa – the true blue conservative standard – only a big bear of a guy with a big laugh and altogether more cuddly and huggable than our Ted.
Here is an ad that Iowa Democrats put out when he was running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2014. (He lost to Jodi Ernst, who is now in the Senate.)
From the ad:
Clovis: I would align myself with Sen. Ted Cruz, but maybe after a few months Sen. Cruz would want to be like Sam Clovis.
Some people laugh.
That’s what amounts to an attack ad in Iowa.
So, why Trump, Clovis was asked at the Trump press conference.
I’m excited about the opportunity to change the status quo in America and that’s why I’m here.
And what about the Perry campaign?
I think you have to talk to the Perry folks about what’s going on with their campaign. I think for a lot of us the situation was that more than two weeks ago we were asked to, if we would continue without pay in those circumstances and I think they were having to go back and restructure the campaign and I felt it was the honorable thing to do for Gov. Perry – I think the world of him – is to step aside so they could proceed without the calculus of figuring out how to get me back on board and those kinds of things.
And, as such, I had the opportunity to look at other situations and this is a situation that presented itself, and I’m very happy and proud to be here.
I spent two days following Perry in Iowa the weekend of Aug. 8 and 9. Clovis was with him every step of the way.
That Saturday I talked with Clovis in the bleachers at the Ellsworth Community College Equestrian Center in Iowa Fallas where Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal were addressing the Hardin County Sweetcorn and Gourmet Burger Fundraiser.
I asked Clovis what had drawn him to Perry.
“I always like governors,” he said.
And Clovis said, “We have a lot in common.”
They are about the same age. Both are from lower-middle income backgrounds. Both were Air Force pilots – “I was a 25-year fighter pilot in the Air Force and he flew C-130s. His father as a B-17 tail gunner. My father was a B-17 crew chief.
“He seemed a natural fit,” Clovis said. “And I’ve not been wrong.”
“I don’t imagine there’s a single thing we would disagree on. I haven’t found it yet.”
Clovis, a tenured professor who teaches business, management and public policy at Morningside College in Sioux City, wrote his doctoral dissertation in 2006 on federalism; Perry wrote a book, Fed Up! on federalism.
“He read the whole thing. The next time we met, we had an incredible discussion about my views on federalism.”
Clovis was sanguine on Perry’s prospects.
“I think we can win. I swear to God. I mean it. If I did not think we can win, I’ve got far better things to do with my time than waste it out here to come in fifth or sixth.”
How about second or third?
“That ain’t gonna work either. You don’t know how competitive I am. I’m a fighter pilot and I’m into single combat and I’m pretty damn good at it.”
Clovis, who worked for Rick Santorum’s successful campaign in Iowa four years ago, said that while it doesn’t show up in the polls, the Perry campaign was already succeeding in replicating the Santorum strategy of making their candidate a popular second choice who, with the right breaks and the right moves, could surge at the end.
He was frustrated that despite their hidden success in Iowa it didn’t translate into anything that could get Perry into the top tier of candidates for the Fox debate – “particularly when you have somebody like Donald Trump who, for all practical purposes, has turned it into reality TV. It’s like market interference. You distort the market.”
“How much media attention did anybody get with Donald Trump out there?” Clovis asked rhetorically. “None.”
Clovis said then that he thought Trump was hitting a “ceiling,” and “his unfavorability in Iowa is higher than anywhere else.”
But he was not dismissive of Trump’s seriousness as a candidate or his approach to developing a ground game in Iowa.
As he crisscrossed the state for Perry, Clovis said, “the people who show up everywhere are Trump and Perry” representatives.
“His main Iowa strategist is one of my best friends, Chuck Laudner. Chuck drove the truck for Rick Santorum. He ran my U.S. Senate campaign.”
Iowa political operative Chuck Laudner is trading in a 2012 pick-up truck for a 2016 private jet.
In the last campaign cycle, Laudner was a key Iowa aide for GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who famously campaigned in all 99 of the state’s counties in Laudner’s Dodge Ram, which was nicknamed the “Chuck Truck.” Santorum narrowly won the state’s caucuses that year and is a candidate again this time. But Laudner has switched allegiances, and he is working on retainer for another, very different likely contender: real estate mogul and reality TV host Donald Trump.
The key to winning in Iowa, said Clovis:
You’ve just got to stay the course. Got to have the plan. Got to come out here and execute the plan. The big thing is, you’ve got to keep up doing what you’re doing. A lot of people get panicky.
That’s why I’m confident and calm about where we are and what we’re doing because I know the people that I am working with and I know what we have to do and I know how to do that. I’m not concerned about any of this other stuff – people in Austin, people in Washington.
The morning after I spoke to Clovis in Iowa Falls, Clovis said he spoke with Perry, laid out the Iowa strategy and got his commitment to proceed.
I think when I spoke to Clovis that weekend, he was absolutely sincere and committed to sticking with Perry and his plan.
But the very next day, Monday, August 10, Perry’s national team in Austin had a conference call with the folks in Iowa saying they were running low on cash and wouldn’t be able to pay them for the immediate future. With that, I think the Perry campaign essentially abrogated its contract with Clovis. They were asking him to pull off a political miracle, but now they wanted him – and the team he had helped assemble – to do it for free.
I think even if Clovis might have privately mused about how, maybe, the way things are turning out, he had chosen the wrong horse, he would have stuck with Perry absent the Perry campaign essentially furloughing staff. (In the wake of news Monday that Clovis had left the campaign, the Perry campaign said it was putting some staff back on the payroll, though it is still primarily relying on the independent efforts of far better-heeled super PACs, albeit ones that cannot by law, coordinate with the campaign.)
But, as Clovis said Tuesday, when Perry removed him from the payroll, I had the opportunity to look at other situations and this is a situation that presented itself.
And can Clovis be blamed for seizing the opportunity?
It’s like a choice between going to Disneyland, or extending your stay in Banksy’s Dismaland.
Consider the choice Clovis was faced with.
A – Stick with Perry who, much as he loves him, is barely registering in the polls, and sinking; who shows no promise of being able to compete in the main event at upcoming presidential debates, and who, even after 14 years as governor of Texas, couldn’t seem put the arm on enough donors to guarantee that he could keep his small band of top-flight operatives in Iowa on a steady diet of coffee and donuts.
B – Go to work for Donald Trump, whose previous polling ceiling turned out to be his floor (see, How to Build a High-Rise), who is the hottest political property in the world, and who is the only one in the presidential race who no one can take his or her eyes off of.
Add to that that here’s one of Clovis’s best buddies – the guy who ran his own Senate campaign – managing Trump’s Iowa campaign, probably pinching himself every few minutes, and no doubt telling Clovis every chance he gets, Man, you’ve got to get over here. This is unbelievable. This is once in a lifetime.
And remember. Clovis did not go from a job with Perry to an equivalent job with Trump. He went from a job with Perry to a way more important job with Trump. He was chairing Perry’s Iowa campaign. The day of the caucuses, which kick off the primary and caucus season early next year, Clovis would be pretty much done.
But now he has signed on as co-chair and senior policy adviser for Trump’s national campaign.
It might not last. Trump may implode. They may not hit it off. He may not be, a la Perry, Clovis’s soul brother.
But, then again, he could become Trump’s James Baker or Karl Rove or his David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett rolled into one. And, to those on the right who may complain that he is selling out and betraying the movement by embracing a false prophet, he can argue that he will be harnessing the enormous energy that Trump has tapped, into a more disciplined and coherent conservative philosophy and program that could actually change the course of history.
And, if nothing else, it will be the ride of a lifetime and the makings of a great book.
Anyway, Clovis’ first day on the job was memorable.
Trump’s press conference and speech had countless great moments – too many to mention.
Like his line, “You know for the debate, we had 24 million people. Normally they have 2 million people. What do you say? Two million if you’re lucky. They had 24. I won’t take credit for it, but believe me, 100% it’s me. 100%. It’s true.
But by far the highlight of the day was Trump’s confrontation with Jorge Ramos, which captured the headlines.
Yes, I’m a reporter, but I didn’t have much sympathy for Ramos on this one, who came across as a Trump-class prima donna.
A few years ago I read one of Ramos’s books – The Latino Wave: How Hispanics Will Elect the Next American President.
The tone of the book was more triumphal than thoughtful, the gist being, America’s future belongs to Hispanics so either adapt or get out of the way.
His tone as anchor – whether it’s his questioning of Barack Obama or Donald Trump – is that he speaks for all Latinos. And if you don’t think so, well, you get the look he displays on his book cover.
As Jackie Calmes wrote in the New York Times. “Ramos, the Univision and Fusion television anchor … is often called the Walter Cronkite of Latino America.”
For years, Mr. Ramos largely aimed his ire at President Obama for breaking his 2008 campaign promise — made directly to Mr. Ramos — that he would propose an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system in his first year in office, and for deporting two million people since. Even after Mr. Obama announced late last year that nearly half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants could apply to work without fear of deportation, Mr. Ramos confronted him during a Nashville forum for having “destroyed many families” by not acting sooner.
But Mr. Ramos’s focus has changed, he said in an interview here: “Now is the turn of Republicans.”
“Immigration is the issue that tells us who is with us and who is against us; there’s no question about it. And it’s very simple to understand why — half of all Latinos over 18 years of age were born outside the United States. It really makes no sense to attack them and criticize them if you want their vote.”
The issue is also personal for Mr. Ramos, 56, who has the smooth, silver-haired look of a classic television anchor. Born in Mexico City, he came to the United States as a young journalist, and by 28 he was an anchor for Univision. In 2008, he became an American citizen. Univision is a media goliath, but with the 2013 debut of Fusion in English, Mr. Ramos’s reach expanded significantly, and with it the attention of American politicians.
Ramos and Trump have a history.
From Dylan Byers at Politico in June.
Donald Trump published a photograph of a handwritten letter from Univision’s Jorge Ramos on Friday that included the anchor’s personal cellphone number, a move that is likely to inflame the recent tensions between the two parties.
In the letter, sent Thursday, Ramos asks if Trump will sit with him for an interview. Ramos then provides his cellphone number, in the event that Trump “would like to talk first over the phone.” Trump published the photo to his personal Instagram account on Friday, noting that Univision was “begging” him for interviews even after publicly severing business ties with him.
Earlier that day, Univision had announced it would end its business relationship with the Miss Universe Organization, which is co-owned by Trump and NBCUniversal, based on what it described as Trump’s “insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants” during the launch of his presidential campaign. (Trump had said he would build a wall to stop Mexico from dumping “rapists” and criminals on U.S. soil. He later accused the media of trying to distort his remarks.)
Later on Thursday, Trump announced he would sue Univision for breach of contract and defamation.
So, right after Clovis finishes answering his question Tuesday about why he switched from Perry to Trump, Trump, returning to the podium, is calling on the next questioner, when Ramos, unbidden, starts to ask a question.
Trump: Sit down. You weren’t called on. (Ramos persists.) Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.
This last sit down is dripping with so much New York bile and disgust I could watch it on an endless loop.
You can see it here about 12 seconds in.
Ramos: I have the right to ask a question.
Trump: No you don’t. Go back to Univision.
Ramos keeps going, his question being not so much a question as multiple assertions: “You cannot deport 11 million people. You can’t build a 1,900-mile wall. You cannot deny citizenship to children born in this country.”
At this point, Trump goes from presidential candidate to casino boss getting rid of a gambler who’s making a scene, or maybe winning too much. Trump looks to his left, puckers his lips and makes the faintest chirping sound.
It’s Robert DeNiro signaling Don Rickles to “get rid of this bum” in Casino.
So, out of the wings steps a tall bald guy, who walks over to Ramos, and while Ramos protests – “I’m a reporter, don’t touch me, I have a right to ask a question” – backs him out of the room.
Trump is asked a couple of questions by other reporters, along the lines How can you do that to one of America’s most important journalists? And, President Obama took tough questions from Ramos, why can’t you?
Trump gives some disingenuous answers about not knowing who Ramos is, and not knowing who that security guy is who kicked him out.
But then says he would be happy to have Ramos return and to answer his questions – “I would take his questions in two seconds” – and, in short order, Ramos is back, looking none the worse for wear, and Trump, in an appropriately contentious tone, is answering Ramos’ questions, which really aren’t questions but assertions that Trump can’t do this and Trump can’t do that.
It’s all win-win.
Ramos gets to “go back to Univision,” with his reputation as heroic tribune for his people burnished, and Trump thrills the base, many of whom undoubtedly bristle at the whole notion of Univision – because how does a Spanish-language television network help Hispanic immigrants learn English and become American, and what are they doing here in the first place.
At one point in Dubuque, Trump goes on about how he has to meet a much higher bar than the other candidates. They can repeat their canned speeches day-after-day before their little-bitty audiences, but he has to have something fresh, original and outrageous every day because everything he says is being watched by everyone all the time, and they’ve come to expect top-flight performances from him – all off-the-cuff without notes or Teleprompter.
He’s got a point. And so far, the Trump show is great.
But Trump knows better than anyone, if this is reality TV, every episode has got to be engaging and earn a unique and intriguing capsule description.
Yesterday’s was easy. Yesterday was a good episode.
Trump steals campaign chairman Sam Clovis from Rick Perry, kicks Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of Iowa presser, and tweets Jeb to stop with the Mexican and speak English.