It’s been a while, so let’s take a peek inside the burlap sack filled with coked-up raccoons that is the Donald J. Trump 2016 presidential campaign. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager – as in, the person who actually runs the Trump campaign – was brought up on charges this week for manhandling a reporter who did the unthinkable and tried to ask his boss question. The incident occurred earlier this month after one of Trump’s primary-night victory press conferences. Reporter Michelle Fields, then with Breitbart News, approached Trump to ask a question, and Lewandowksi grabbed her and yanked her away, leaving bruises on Fields’ forearm. Now Lewandowski, who, again, is in charge of the campaign of the front-running presidential candidate from a major political party, is staring down a May 4 court date and the possibility of up to one year in prison.
So… how did we get here? Well, aside from the fact that a Trump staffer committed the offense in question, the Trump campaign itself took active steps to guarantee that this story would blow up the way it has. This whole thing very likely could have been defused, or at least mitigated, had Lewandowski and the Trump campaign issued an apology to Fields as soon as reports of the assault surfaced. (Any other campaign would have fired or suspended a staffer for laying their hands on a reporter, but with Trump you have to treat the minimum standard for decency as the ceiling.) But instead they went to war. Let’s explore why they made this decision.
You’ve probably noticed that Donald Trump and a number of his supporters have some pretty shitty opinions about women. When it came to Fields, Trump and his underlings settled pretty quickly on a counteraccusation to her claim that Lewandowski assaulted her: she made it all up for attention. “Everybody said nothing happened,” Trump said on CNN a couple of weeks ago. “Perhaps she made the story up. I think that's what happened.” Lewandowski called Fields “totally delusional” and “an attention seeker who once claimed Allen West groped her but later went silent.” As Michelle Goldberg wrote at Slate, the Trump campaign’s treatment of Fields mirrored the abuse other female critics of the candidate had received: “There is no precedent in modern politics for such sexist bullying and coordinated personal destruction of journalists and commentators.”
Part of the Trump ethos is that Donald Trump is “tough.” He’ll be so tough on China, he’ll be so tough on Mexico, he’ll be so tough on Iran – nobody will mess with Donald J. Trump. So what happens when reports surface that one of his top aides injured a reporter and left bruises on her arm, all in full view of a Washington Post reporter? He could fire Lewandowski, or make him apologize, but that would be an admission of error. Only weaklings do that. Donald Trump doesn’t apologize to anyone – and certainly not to a woman.
The option they chose was to fight the media over allegations that a Trump aide had physically assaulted a reporter, thus guaranteeing that a media firestorm would ensue. It didn’t matter that what the Trump campaign was saying was self-evidently ridiculous, and it didn’t matter that every shred of available evidence indicated that Lewandowksi had in fact assaulted Fields. It doesn’t even matter if Lewandowski is convicted, because the Trump campaign will stick with him. They can never back down, because they can’t afford to look “weak.”
They knew they would have defenders
One of the more despicable subplots of this whole affair is the degree to which pro-Trump media outlets have eagerly worked to discredit Fields and bolster the Trump campaign’s nonsense defense – outlets like Breitbart News, Fields’ employer at the time of the incident. Much of this sycophancy is motivated by power lust and the desire for access – Fields said her editor at Breitbart was excited about the assault because it would guilt the Trump campaign into giving them “exclusives” – but a good chunk of it stems from the rabid and incurable distrust of “the media” that has become a pillar of Republican politics. The Trump campaign’s defense was obviously weak, but the fact that so much of the mainstream media was lined up against Trump was proof enough that some sort of conspiracy was afoot.
Again, none of this had to happen. They could have just said “sorry” and we’d all be talking about whatever other stupid thing Donald Trump said this week. But they opted to fight, and the Trump campaign’s reward for all this hyperaggressive pushback is a criminal charge filed against Lewandowski and a complete dismantling of every single bullshit defense they’ve deployed over the past couple of weeks.
The surveillance video released by the local police clearly shows Lewandowski – who denied having touched anyone – grabbing and yanking Fields as she speaks with Trump. The candidate himself, who argued that Fields had made the whole thing up, is now arguing that Fields got too close to him and might have presented some sort of danger. It’s all internally inconsistent and morally repugnant, but they won’t back down from this because they can’t afford to look weak. They can’t admit that a woman was right and Donald Trump was wrong. They’re just going to keep pressing their case to the people who are willing to believe it and asking them to trust Donald Trump over their lying eyes.