A week isn't very long to learn a new job, so it's possible Corey Lewandowski will improve in his role as a CNN commentator. But so far, Donald Trump's recently fired campaign manager is just plain bad — and not only for the reasons many anticipated.
His volatile relationship with journalists was well-documented before the hiring, and already there have been a few awkward on-air moments between Lewandowski and his new colleagues. His nondisclosure agreement with Trump raised questions about whether he could or would feel free to criticize his old boss, and indeed Lewandowski has refused to say a bad word about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Case in point:
CNN turns to new commentator Corey Lewandowski, who says this was "Mr. Trump’s best speech of the presidential cycle."
— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) June 28, 2016
And later: "The speech was delivered clearly, articulately, and again, the best speech of the campaign so far”
— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) June 28, 2016
Yet it is Lewandowski's failure to contribute meaningful insight and analysis — even from a pro-Trump perspective — that makes his performances truly underwhelming. Here's a representative exchange from "New Day" in which host Alisyn Camerota asked Lewandowski and former New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, a Hillary Clinton supporter, about Trump's recent trip to Scotland.
CAMEROTA: There is a long tradition in this country of, when politicians go abroad, not trash talking the U.S. or the U.S. president or even their fellow candidates, and Donald Trump broke with that on Friday. He did say negative things about the president and Hillary Clinton and the country. Why do you think that he broke with that tradition?
LEWANDOWSKI: It's about authenticity. And what you have with Hillary Clinton is she's put an ad out which is completely false. Donald Trump was not playing golf, as she alluded to in that golf — in that ad.
CAMEROTA: He was there for a golf resort.
QUINN: And he did talk about sprinklers.
LEWANDOWSKI: He put 200 million pounds of his own money into a resort to help. And his son oversaw that project. He went out to support him. One night overseas to show support for his family. I find it very hard to believe he's being criticized for going out and supporting his family for rebuilding a course.
CAMEROTA: Right. No, I'm asking why he would criticize the president while he's there.
Lewandowski's response had almost nothing to do with the question and didn't help viewers understand Trump's thinking at all. He might have said Trump's philosophy is to deliver the same message to foreigners that he does to Americans — or that the candidate's break from longstanding precedent is just one more example of the way he is shaking up politics, to the delight of many voters.
Instead, Lewandowski deflected and pivoted to other subjects, knocking Clinton for a campaign ad and praising Trump for supporting his son's work on a golf course project. By the end, he had somehow invented a scenario in which the question was about criticism of Trump, rather than criticism by Trump.
This is what a spokesman might do — changing the subject to predetermined talking points. But Lewandowski doesn't work for Trump anymore; he works for CNN. He needs to at least talk about whatever CNN wants to talk about and not try to hijack the conversation. His employer asked him a question and wanted his analysis of it, and he didn't deliver.
The cable channel's hosts have appeared frustrated, at times, by their inability to get anything useful out of Lewandowski. During a segment on "CNN Tonight," Don Lemon struggled to get a straight answer when he asked whether the Brexit vote is good for Trump, even if the economic turmoil that has characterized the immediate aftermath continues into the fall. Lewandowski started talking about a new prime minister assuming power in the United Kingdom before Lemon cut him off.
"Corey, my question is, if it is still unsettled, is it good for Clinton or Trump?" he said. "That's the question."
On "OutFront" Monday night, Erin Burnett seem irked by Lewandowski's unwillingness to even acknowledge that Trump recently altered his position on a Muslim immigration ban — much less explain the calculus that would have gone into such a decision.
"Corey's not answering my question because there's kind of no great answer for it," she said finally.
And on "The Lead" the same day, Jake Tapper grew weary of having to fact-check his new co-worker on the spot. At one point, Lewandowski referred to "bad trade deals like TPP that Hillary Clinton supports."
"Well, Hillary Clinton said she opposes that deal," Tapper corrected, "but she has supported it in the past."
Later, Lewandowski said "this election is going to come down to seven to 10 states, and in those seven to 10 states, Donald Trump is not only competitive; he's winning in many of those."
Tapper looked confused: "I don't know where he is winning. I know in the states I have seen — the competitive battleground states — he's behind Hillary Clinton in Florida, and then they are basically neck and neck in Pennsylvania and Ohio. So where is he leading?"
Lewandowski offered New Hampshire. But that's not true, either.
That's not to say Lewandowski has been a complete bust as an analyst. There have been occasional glimmers of potential. In a segment discussing a Trump speech on Tuesday, CNN's Pamela Brown asked, "Who writes his speeches?"
"This is a particular area where Mr. Trump has a lot of experience understanding how bad trade deals have affected our country, understanding what job creation is all about," Lewandowski replied. "These thoughts are predominantly his."
The answer suggested Trump does his own speechwriting when the topic is in his wheelhouse but leans more heavily on advisers when it's not. That's a bit of insight that CNN will be glad to have.
During the "New Day" discussion of Trump's trip to Scotland, Camerota asked Lewandowski if he could understand why some voters would view as selfish the candidate's remark that "when the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry."
"Sure, I understand," Lewandowski answered.
This qualifies as progress. He is at least capable of seeing a non-Trump point of view and granting an unfriendly premise.
For the most part, however, Lewandowski is bad television. He remains prone to spouting fiction and doesn't stay on-topic, grinding segments to a halt as CNN hosts have to correct his misinformation or interject to steer the conversation back to the point.
In short, Lewandowski has not yet transitioned out of his role as a Trump employee, and it has already reportedly cost him one post-campaign payday. Politico reported this week that HarperCollins rescinded a $1.2 million book offer over concerns that Lewandowski would not provide much insight, partly because of his nondisclosure agreement and partly because he was fired more than four months before Election Day.
CNN is more willing to give Lewandowski a shot. But right now, he's not enhancing their coverage in the least.