Whatever it was that former Republican strategist and deposed cable news commentator Corey Lewandowski hoped to communicate to the paying audience at the City Club of Cleveland Thursday afternoon, the takeaways from this controversial forum will have little to do with his remarks.
How could they? Lewandowski's speech, and his wobbly answers to seven audience questions, were so destitute of worth and truth that the crowd could do little but sigh and shake their heads as they processed to the elevators after City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop glumly adjourned the forum just as tempers began to flare. The Donald Trump sympathizers in the audience had stumbled upon sporadic moments of applause that never quite rose to the level of rounds, but even they might have found it difficult to defend the charade on anything other than propaganda grounds.
Near the exits, some of the attendees remarked upon the "tension" in the room. Others felt Lewandowski had deflected most of the substantive questions, a feeling we shared and one we'd be remiss not to illustrate:
The third audience question invited Lewandowski to reflect on why Americans should believe anything Donald Trump says "if he can't even be honest about his golf scores?"
Lewandowski ignored the question and replied that he'd never played golf with Trump, but that he was "probably the best golfer, as a President, that we have ever seen."
The answer was in keeping with the speech's fawning tone, in open defiance of seriousness. Among other superlatives, Donald Trump was described as the "greatest political phenomenon of all-time." He was the best marketer, he was the most successful businessman, he had prevailed in the 2016 primaries against "the greatest Republican field of all-time."
"In whatever he has sought to achieve," Lewandowski remarked early on, "he has been successful."
Some of these assertions might be partially true, but the speech was devoid of all self-awareness, as blindly promotional as a statement from Trump himself. Instead of explaining how the campaign created or capitalized on Trump's popularity, Lewandowski merely lavished praise upon his former boss and recounted inconsequential tales of the campaign trail. His remarks immediately contradicted Congressman and gubernatorial hopeful Jim Renacci, who'd suggested Lewandowski's appearance to the City Club in the first place and who gave the introduction. Renacci called Lewandowski a "skillfully disruptive" campaign manager and pegged him as a man who "understands the mood and pulse of the American people."
Lewandowski is nothing of the kind, or else a master of disguise.
He revealed himself to be precisely what he'd revealed himself to be many times before: a minor campaign personality with a bad temper known chiefly for assaulting reporters and being constantly fired. He had nothing to offer in the way of insight, as his speech rehashed familiar tirades against the mainstream media and re-asserted loyalty to Trump.
"If you're not willing to come here and work 20 hours a day," Lewandowski said, recapping how he hired campaign staffers, "we don't want you."
Some other campaign anecdotes: McDonald's six days a week on "Trump Force One"; an unsanctioned helicopter ride for kids; the meeting at Trump Tower when Lewandowski was bowled over by Trump's presidential resolve.
"I saw a man," said Lewandowski, "who didn't need to be President to have a great lifestyle."
(Why am I still writing this article?)
The testiest moment arrived in the Q&A when local attorney Jan Roller asked about Lewandowski's recent appearance on Meet the Press. Unprompted on Sunday's show, he randomly called for the firing of Richard Cordray, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (who is expected to run for Ohio Governor). When host Chuck Todd asked if Lewandowski had any clients who would benefit from such a move, Lewandowski said no. But Roller asked him to respond to a report in the New York Times
about one of his new Ohio-based clients, a company called Community Choice Financial that is reportedly a "leader in the payday lending industry," and who would be keen to see Cordray go.
"Yes or no. Is Community Choice Financial one of your company's clients?" Roller asked.
"Let me be as clear as I can be," Lewandowksi responded. "Whether Richard Cordray is the chair of the CFPB or not the chairman of the CFPB, I don't make one dime. Not one. Let me go on to say, on Friday of last week....etc."
Question unanswered, another man in the audience asked Lewandowski to respond a few minutes later.
"One word answer," he asked. "Is the company a client or not."
But he also asked Lewandowski to address other unanswered questions, and Lewandowski never did respond. (Presumably, Community Choice Financial is indeed a client.) Instead, he launched into a sputtering tailspin in which he advised his interrogator that when he
had the podium, he could talk for as long as he wanted. "I didn't know it was your
job to make sure I address his questions." He also asked how anyone could honestly be concerned about Trump's comments regarding law enforcement in the face of more pressing global issues, like the fact that North Korea wants to kill us.
On that note, Dan Moulthrop intervened to conclude the forum — it was the proper time, after all — but many in the crowd were dissatisfied, if not disgusted.
Sheesh. To the extent that the forum will be talked about at all in the ensuing weeks, it's likely that the conversation will have more to do with the City Club than with Lewandowski. Did the institution debase itself by lowering its standards thus? Has Free Speech been sufficiently defended? Is the board satisfied with how guests are selected?
Before the speech kicked off, Moulthrop had given a little spiel about the history of the City Club, in light of the controversy preceding Thursday's forum. He said that at the City Club, "We have conversations, we listen closely, and we ask great questions. We ask tough questions, but we do it in a civil way."
"If you came here with the intent to disrupt, I hope you'll rethink that," he said. "People are here to engage in conversation, to find out what they don't already know or to hear from somebody who they really want to hear from...
"If this idea of having conversations across difference matters to you, if you care deeply about our Republic, and you want to be a part of an institution that helps to support the First Amendment and helps us have tough conversations across difference, then please consider joining the City Club... It gives you the sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself. It gives you a sense of being a part of something that really matters to our democracy, and the state of our Republic, and the state of our community."