Dana Milbank: Lewandowski’s campaign theme will be unbridled nastiness

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP Photo) Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, testifies to the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Washington • Corey Lewandowski has been alternately vulgar, pugilistic and deceitful. Now he wants to run for Senate.

He'll fit right in.

The one-time Trump 2016 campaign manager volunteered to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, not to talk about presidential obstruction of justice — he happily obeyed White House orders not to discuss such matters — but to launch his bid for the Senate seat now held by the mild-mannered Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H..

Lewandowski, now a TV commentator and consultant who trades on his influence with President Trump, used the hashtag "Senate2020" in a prehearing tweet promoting his appearance. He requested a five-minute recess in the hearing and used it to tweet: "New website just launched to help a potential Senate run. Sign up now!"

If his testimony is any indication, he has already settled on a campaign theme: unbridled nastiness.

He rolled his eyes. He shook his head. He questioned Democrats' patriotism. He mocked former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's work: "Nobody's actually read the report." He made a crack about Hillary Clinton's emails and attacked "bad" and "shameful" federal agents, as well as "Trump haters" trying to "take down a duly elected president." He said "this fake Russia collusion narrative is the greatest crime committed against the American people in our generation, if not ever." When asked to read sections of the Mueller report by lawmakers, he refused. Instead, he doled out barbs:

"Don't ask me a question if you don't want to hear my answer."

"Could you repeat the question? I didn't hear it. It was just a rant."

"Unlike you sir, I don't live in town."

"I'm not ashamed of anything in my life, congressman, are you?"

He admitted he lied on TV about his and Trump's actions in the Russia probe: "I have no obligation to be honest with the media."

His combative performance brought the House Judiciary Committee, never a harmonious assembly, to a new level of acrimony. Rep. Douglas A. Collins, R-Ga., repeatedly disrupted proceedings with howls for roll-call votes to cease questioning and to adjourn, dilatory interjections ("That was 19 seconds over!"), parliamentary contretemps and an accusation that Democrats violated ethics rules. Democrats, riled, called Lewandowski a "chicken," a "Forrest Gump" of corruption, a "hit man," "bag man" and "lookout."

"I think I'm the good-looking man," Lewandowski rejoined.

Back and forth lawmakers and witness went: Coverup. Socialists. Obstruction. Lie. Contempt. Fake news. Impeachment. Joe Biden's record player. Trump's Sharpie.

It was a depressing scene, and quite a way to honor Constitution Day. Five hours of nastiness made clear that the revolting politics of this moment, though aggravated by Trump, are larger than him — and will outlast him if people such as Lewandowski gain election.

Lewandowski was charged with battery for grabbing a reporter during the 2016 campaign and lied about it until a video emerged to support the accusation; authorities called the evidence "legally sufficient" but dropped the charge. Singer Joy Villa, a Trump supporter, filed a sexual assault complaint against Lewandowski in 2017. (Lewandowski maintains his innocence.) He was charged with a misdemeanor in 1999 for bringing a gun into a congressional office building. Last year, he settled a dispute with neighbors accusing him of threatening them with a baseball bat.

Mueller's report recounts Trump dictating to Lewandowski a speech he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give directing the special counsel to stop investigating Trump. But Lewandowski, who claimed he didn't relay the instructions to Sessions because he took a "vacation," refused to say anything more about the incident, instead reading and rereading to lawmakers a letter from White House lawyers (some seated behind him) directing him not to talk.

Mostly, Lewandowski, with buzz cut and extra-large flag lapel pin, campaigned for the Senate. He discussed his childhood, his time as a cop and his work shaping “the greatest political movement in our nation’s history.” He would later boast about his gun collection — kept in the same safe with Trump’s proposed speech ending the investigation — and his support for the New England Patriots: “Tom’s a winner!”

From Air Force One, Trump, who had already touted Lewandowski for the Senate, tweeted his approval: "Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski!"

Lewandowski spoke about what he might do when serving "in the other chamber." He told the lawmakers that "many people in New Hampshire" have "confidence in me."

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., interrupted Lewandowski's taxpayer-funded campaign event.

"You're not on the campaign trail yet," he said. "This is the House Judiciary Committee. Act like you know the difference."

Thanks to the likes of Trump and Lewandowski, there no longer is a difference.

Dana Milbank | The Washington Post

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.