Jeffrey Lord is living out his wildest, weirdest dreams.
Over the past year, the elder statesman of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania has emerged as one of the most visible and controversial defenders of Donald Trump. While many of the Trump boosters who appear on cable news are less-than-eloquent political neophytes who didn’t really jump onto the Trump Train until it had left the station, Lord is perhaps the only lion of the Reagan administration who’s been ride-or-die for the mogul from Day One. And his loyalty is unflinching; when Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and just about every other prominent Republican leader condemned the mogul for saying a federal judge’s Mexican ethnicity meant he couldn’t fairly handle his Trump University case, Lord went to bat for him.
Lord’s ascent is about as surprising as Trump’s.
He’s is an insider-turned-outsider who ditched the Beltway to care for his aging parents and pursue his dreams as a pundit and provocateur. And thanks to Trump, he’s finally made it.
From his humble home in a quiet, wooded neighborhood, he defends the country’s most notorious billionaire and charges the speaker of the House with racism—all as Reagan looks on from a framed poster behind him.
“My desire was to turn myself into more or less what I’ve now become, for better or worse,” he told The Daily Beast. “‘Oh my god, there’s that idiot on television again! Martha turn that off!’”
Lord was a political jack-of-all trades before leaving D.C. He grew up in Massachusetts, Virginia, and finally settled in Pennsylvania before his stint in Washington. He said he saw racism from his classmates in Staunton, Virginia, where he spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school, that “made a huge impression” on him. He said he concluded that any division of people based on race—whether those divisions were forced, like school segregation, or voluntary, like the National Hispanic Bar Association—fueled racial tensions and divided society.
“I view identity politics as the grandchild of slave-owning and the child of segregation,” he said. “I think it’s morally wrong… I’m going to be on CNN with Don Lemon tonight. He’s a journalist. His race is irrelevant. I just find that offensive in the extreme.”
Lord loves Trump’s outsider bona fides, despite the fact he spent his career working for largely conventional Republican politicians.
On Capitol Hill he worked for Pennsylvania’s Rep. Bill Shuster and Sen. John Heinz III. He left for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election bid, and as associate director for political affairs in the Reagan White House from 1985 to 1988.
In the White House, he worked on the confirmation efforts for Antonin Scalia, Robert Bork, Anthony Kennedy, and Douglas Ginsburg. He also liaised between the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and the president, working on efforts to staunch the bleeding Republicans faced in the 1986 midterm elections.
This is a point of pride for Lord, who noted Democrats only picked up five seats that year, considering opposition parties typically do much better in the sixth year of a president’s term. (Republicans netted 13 seats in 2014, for instance.)
“All things considered, I felt it was a success,” he said.
After Democrats took back the White House in 1992, there weren’t as many jobs available for Republican operatives, so Lord decided to pursue other gigs.
He took acting classes and was an extra for a few films shot in the D.C. area, including The Pelican Brief, True Lies, and Shadow Conspiracy (a Charlie Sheen film that bombed and pretty much went straight to VHS). He also wrote a few novels, none of which have been published (yet!). And he started writing op-eds for a variety of conservative publications.
But the dream wasn’t coming together.
Lord said he was having trouble making rent, and when he learned in late 2004 that his father had Alzheimer’s, he moved back home to care for his parents. In his spare time, he kept writing. His father has since passed away, and his mother, who has dementia, will be 97 on June 25.
During that time, Donald Trump’s books inspired him.
“When you suddenly realized you’d carved out a life for yourself down there and now I’m coming back here, you’re thinking, What’s happening to my life?” he said. “So somewhere in there I’d read one of those books and I thought, you know, that’s pretty good. He’s a very smart guy.”
From his new base in Camp Hill, he kept pumping out articles for conservative publications, and eventually connected with The American Spectator in 2006. After writing for them for a few years, they made him a contributing editor. From his perch there, he was an early and dogged defender of Trump.
Sam Nunberg, then a political aide to the mogul, even needled Lord when one of his coworkers, Kyle Peterson, wrote a post on their site on May 31, 2013 titled, “Can’t We All Just Agree To Ignore Donald Trump?”
Nunberg confirmed to The Daily Beast that he emailed the post to Lord with the subject line, “Jeffrey, this is bullshit.”
Lord gamely wrote a rebuttal, headlined “Never Ignore Donald Trump,” that now reads as eerily prescient.
“We used to have a saying in the Reagan White House: Let Reagan be Reagan,” Lord wrote. “Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan, is an American Original. Let Donald Trump be Donald Trump.”
Less than a year later, when a BuzzFeed piece charged that Trump’s presidential ambitions were just a farce, Lord was one of the few non-Breitbart writers to defend the billionaire. And that’s what he’s been doing ever since.
The affection is mutual. Trump’s foundation gave the magazine $25,000 in 2014, a year after it gave him their T. Boone Pickens Award. Trump gave Lord a ride to D.C. on his private jet for that awards ceremony, and it was their first time meeting.
Lord’s greatest strength may be that he makes the arguments Trump wants to make—he builds out the candidate’s most absurd statements to make them slightly more palatable to mainstream audiences.
No example is better than his case against Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Trump told The Wall Street Journal on June 3 that the judge overseeing the civil suit against his now-defunct Trump University had an “absolute conflict” because of his Mexican heritage and membership in a Latino lawyers’ association.
Trump doubled down on the comments on CBS’s Face the Nation on June 5.
“He’s member of a club or society very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine,” Trump said. “But I say he’s got bias. I want to build a wall.”
Besides being racist, the argument was, well, less than articulate.
But Lord defended it with verve on CNN over the next two days. When Paul Ryan lambasted Trump’s comments, Lord argued that Ryan’s hat-tip to identity politics was the real racism.
And on June 7, when Hillary Clinton locked up the Democratic nomination, Lord squared off against 7 fellow CNN panelists and held that Trump’s attack on Curiel was actually a salvo in the war against racism.
“It wasn’t racist!” he said. “He was calling attention to racism. Hello! Hello!”
At one point, host Anderson Cooper argued Lord was defending an argument Trump never made—that membership in a Hispanic association is inherently racist.
“Jeffrey, you are interpreting comments made by Donald Trump without any evidence that that is what Donald Trump was actually referencing,” he said. “You’ve sort of come up with this elaborate [defense]. What he was referencing was, this guy is Mexican; I’m building a wall. That’s all he said. You’re reading into it and projecting all these things.”
But sometimes that’s the only remotely plausible way to defend Trump—by changing the topic, counter-punching to the extreme, and refusing to give an inch under any circumstances whatsoever.
Lord is a keen Trump observer, indeed.