APPLETON, Wisconsin (AP) — Donald Trump says his decision to stand behind his campaign manager, who was charged in an altercation with a female reporter, is a sign of loyalty — a trait that Trump has displayed, for better or worse, through much of his career.
The Republican presidential candidate said in an interview that he wouldn’t have accepted Corey Lewandowski’s resignation even if it had been offered. But he also seemed to acknowledge that he’s had a difficult week leading into what could be a crucial primary in Wisconsin Tuesday.
When asked whether Lewandowski had offered his resignation at any point this week, Trump replied, “Well I’d rather not say, but it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“When I looked at that tape, I said I’m just not going to hurt this man by doing something that should not be done,” he said in a brief phone interview with The Associated Press Thursday evening.
Lewandowski was charged with simple battery, accused of grabbing a Breitbart News reporter’s arm after a press conference, an encounter that was captured on surveillance footage. And that was just the start of a difficult week for Trump, who was already under fire for comments about rival Ted Cruz’s wife.
The Cruz incident — Trump said the Texas senator started it — prompted new concerns about Trump’s ability to appeal to female voters in the general election. So did the Lewandowski episode, which brought calls from rivals to fire the man who has been a driving force for Trump’s unorthodox campaign.
Then came a town hall taping on Wednesday, where Trump was asked whether abortions should be illegal and whether women should be punished for having them if they are. His answer, “that there has to be some form of punishment” drew quick criticism and then an unprecedented written reversal from the typically unapologetic candidate.
That was followed by polls that show him trailing Cruz in Wisconsin, a state that will help determine whether Trump can emerge from the primaries with enough delegates to avoid a contested convention.
Asked whether he was having a difficult week on the trail, he sounded resigned. But he also found a bright side, pointing to events in Wisconsin that were packed with supporters.
He has repeatedly framed his decision to stand by Lewandowski as a sign of loyalty and a demonstration that he will not give in to outside pressure.
“Folks, look, I’m a loyal person. I’m going to be loyal to the country. I’m going to be loyal to Wisconsin,” he said at a town hall event.
Trump stressed that theme in the interview. “It’s so important,” he said. “And it’s one of the traits that I most respect in people. You don’t see it enough, you don’t see it enough.”
And it’s a two way street. “I really expect them to be loyal to me,” he said. “It’s a very important element, is trust.”
Trump has often said that, if he has a fault, it’s that he trusts too long and reacts to slights too harshly. He rarely gives second chances.
“I trust too long, then I never, ever forget,” he says.
And Trump has indeed shown a history of standing by people who may have been easier to dump.
Roy Cohn, his longtime lawyer and friend until his death, for instance, was a controversial figure who was the chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the red-scare days of the 1950s. Cohn later became a political wheeler-dealer, and he faced disbarment proceedings in the 1980s.
Cohn was eventually disbarred, but Trump was among the people who testified as character witnesses for him, according to accounts at the time.
Trump has also maintained relationships with others, despite shady dealings, including Felix Sater, a man he named as a senior business adviser in 2010 despite his previous conviction in a Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme.
A more upbeat story involves Brian Baudreau, who started working for Trump back in 1987 as a security officer at Trump Tower in New York. He was eventually promoted to personal security for Trump and his family – a job that included serving as a personal limo driver to Trump’s then-young kids.
When Trump needed someone to oversee development of a hotel project in Las Vegas, he could have hired an outside expert. Instead, he turned to someone he knew and trusted: Baudreau.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that anywhere else,” said Baudreau, who is now the managing director of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas.
“I just feel that loyalty is a very, very important part of life, not only of business but of life,” says Trump.
On the other hand, he appeared to blame his Iowa staff when he said publicly that he hadn’t had a robust enough ground operation in that early caucus state.
And Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser, was fired by the campaign back in the summer for racially charged social media posts. Nunberg is now supporting Ted Cruz, but he worked with Trump and Lewandowski for months before his departure.
He says that Trump is “generally a very loyal, caring employer” who rarely fires people, despite his former Apprentice persona.