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Return of the MAGA warriors: Trump planning to bring back the ghosts of advisers past

Although Donald Trump now finds himself the presumptive Republican presidential nominee after storming through primary season – leaving his rivals trailing in his wake, pretty much from the Iowa caucus onwards – he will not officially become his party’s challenger to Joe Biden until his coronation takes place at its national convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in mid-July.

With four criminal indictments and 88 felony charges hanging over him (three were recently discounted in Georgia) and his campaign burning through legal expenses, the 77-year-old still has a mighty long way to go as he traverses the road back to the White House and there are sure to be plenty more twists and turns to come.

As his campaign ramps up, the 45th president appears to be turning his attention towards revising his line-up of advisers in the hope of recapturing former glories.

According to The New York Times, his old 2016 campaign managers Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort are “in talks to return” while the near-legendary conservative “agent provocateur” Roger Stone “has increasingly appeared at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida”, according to The Times.

The Washington Post and Axios have also reported on the trio’s recent run of secret meetings.

The Times credits current Trump campaign operatives Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita with keeping hard-right activists like Laura Loomer out of the picture – perhaps mindful of the furore that erupted when Kanye West brought Nick Fuentes to dinner at Mr Trump’s Palm Beach home in November 2022 – but the candidate appears determined to surround himself with familiar faces he trusts.

For those in need of a refresher, Mr Lewandowski, 50, was one of Mr Trump’s first political hires in 2015 and was credited with some of his earliest primary wins but his influence within the candidate’s inner circle gradually waned and he duly left his role as campaign manager in June 2016.

Manafort, 74, a veteran political consultant who had previously advised Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush,  succeeded Mr Lewandowski in that role, chairing the Trump presidential campaign from June to August 2016.

However, he was indicted in October 2017 on multiple charges related to the concealment of millions of dollars he had made from lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in 2014, the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych among them.

Additional charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering were added in June 2018, which were alleged to have occurred while he was under house arrest, and, in August that year, Manafort went on trial in Virginia and was ultimately convicted of eight charges of tax and bank fraud.

Corey Lewandowski (Getty)
Corey Lewandowski (Getty)

Another trial in Washington DC saw him plead guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud the US and witness tampering in a plea deal with prosecutors, only for that to be ruled void when FBI special counsel Robert Mueller reported that he had repeatedly lied to federal agents during his investigation into the Trump’s campaigns alleged ties to Russian election hacking efforts.

In March 2019, Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison, with a further 43 months tacked on six days later.

A bipartisan Senate committee subsequently branded him a “grave counterintelligence threat” and a potential channel for covert Russian influence.

But Manafort would be pardoned by Mr Trump in the dying days of his presidency, along with numerous other allies, including the former’s old business partner Roger Stone.

The latter, 71, has operated on the Republican scene since the Watergate era and is as well known for the Nixon tattoo on his back and flamboyant dress sense as he is for his carefully cultivated air of gamey notoriety.

Like Mr Lewandowski, Mr Stone was one of Mr Trump’s earliest advisers in 2015 but left his presidential campaign shortly after its launch.

Paul Manafort (AP)
Paul Manafort (AP)

In January 2019, he was arrested at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as part of Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation and charged in an indictment with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding and five counts of making false statements.

He was convicted on all seven counts by a jury the following November and sentenced to 40 months in prison, only to have his punishment commuted by then-President Trump in July 2020 before he was pardoned that December.

Asked about what a new Trump administration might look like on MSNBC recently, the former Republican strategist and Lincoln Project founder Rick Wilson said: “The people around him this time will not be restrained by any grown-ups or adults or establishment Washington types.

“It’s going to all be the crazies – they’re going to go absolutely wild with this guy.”

Mr Trump appears keen to learn from the mistakes of his first term from 2017 to 2021, when the likes of his second White House chief of staff John F Kelly and defence secretary Jim Mattis believed they could play a restraining role and steer the president away from his worst instincts, ultimately causing both men – and many others – to resign and subsequently speak out against their former commander-in-chief.

In a statement to CNN last September, for instance, General Kelly referred to Mr Trump as a man with “no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about” and “a person with nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law”.

He is not the only former top aide turned denier.

Roger Stone (Getty)
Roger Stone (Getty)

A host of ex-Trump administration officials, from vice president Mike Pence to attorney general Bill Barr, have refused to endorse him again in 2024, with some, like former White House director of communications Anthony Scaramucci or national security adviser John Bolton, since emerging as outspoken critics of the man they once championed.

Others, like his ex-trade adviser Peter Navarro and personal attorney Michael Cohen have ended up behind bars as a result of becoming embroiled in illegal activities associated with his reign while members of his own family, notably wife Melania Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump, have hinted at their reluctance to go through it all again.

All of which leaves the former president with an ever-decreasing pool of people he could bring back to serve again, even if he wanted them, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why he is inclined to return to the same faces who first helped him spring his political brand on an unsuspecting world nine years ago.

Has anyone got Mike Pompeo’s number? Hope Hicks?

But before Mr Trump gets ahead of himself and begins appointing a fantasy Cabinet, he needs to select a running mate for his presidential campaign and he has been uncharacteristically coy about who he might go for, even asking his MAGA supporters for their preference in a campaign email.

The likes of New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik, South Carolina senator Tim Scott and California entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have all been lobbying hard for the gig on the conservative news channels and at his rallies while the likes of serving state governors Kristi Noem and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have also been linked, as has the ousted Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

For now, finding a prospective vice president has to be his top HR priority.