How the President Actually Won Over ‘Never Trumper’ Erick Erickson
The former Never Trumper recounts a wild and unexpected phone conversation with the president as he put away Christmas decorations.
In an Oval Office sit-down with Breitbart News on Monday, Donald Trump claimed that former “Never Trumper” and conservative writer Erick Erickson had called the president “a couple weeks ago” to tell him he was “all in’” for his re-election.
What actually happened, and what Trump didn’t tell Breitbart, is that it was the president who called Erickson—on more than one occasion—early this year to court the blogger’s public support and allegiance ahead of the campaign.
“He actually called me and it was in January,” Erickson told The Daily Beast. “I almost didn't answer in January,” he continued. “I was putting up Christmas decorations [in the attic] and it was an unlisted number. I assumed it was CNN calling and was too busy to go do TV. But they called immediately back and I answered.”
Once connected, Erickson said the president thanked him for a piece he had authored on the legislative fight over a wall on the southern border, and conveyed “how glad he was that we had found some common ground.” Trump, Erickson recalled, “said he knew I was willing to stand by my convictions so it meant a lot to him that I was willing to speak up on that.”
“He did most of the talking actually,” Erickson added, underscoring “just how surreal” the whole situation was.
“My hands were literally inside the branches of our Christmas tree trying to push it into place in storage with my phone ringing and I had to answer on my Apple Watch with my nose because I couldn’t move my other hand to get the phone out of my pocket,” he recounted. “And suddenly there's a lady who says ‘Is this Erick Erickson?’ and when I say yes she says, ‘please hold for the president.’ I let the tree fall and got my phone out of my pocket.”
It was in the month following that phone call that Erickson put up a blog post on the Resurgent titled, “I’ll Be Voting for President Trump and Vice President Pence in 2020.”
“I will vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” he wrote in the post. “And, to be clear, it will not be just because of what the other [Democratic] side offers, but also because of what the Trump-Pence team has done. They’ve earned my vote.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Erickson affirmed that position. “I am supporting him in 2020 and am happy to help them as I can. About that, the president is right,” he remarked.
The wooing of Erickson by Trump illustrates both the flimsiness of the pledges by some conservatives to “never” back Trump and the sense of urgency felt by the president to bring some of those conservative critics into the fold before the reelection campaign.
“Any politician would do that [with someone like Erickson] to shore up the marginal support that they should have,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), now a Trump surrogate, told The Daily Beast. “It’s probably a good idea to hold your enemies close. It’s good standard politics… If anything, the Never Trump Republican movement never went anywhere.”
Erickson said that the first overture started not with Trump, but rather with his vice president, Mike Pence, a longtime friend and ally.
Roughly two months ago, he recalled, Pence read the post Erickson had written supporting Trump on his decision to shut down the government over border wall funding. Pence had it printed out and personally took the pages over to the president to read. According to Erickson, Trump “called me then and there after reading it with Pence in the office.”
A senior Trump administration official confirmed Erickson’s characterization of events. Another source close to the president said Trump was specifically reaching out to Erickson to gauge his level of support for the reelection effort. By the end of that first phone call, the writer assured the president that he was “leaning” toward endorsing the Trump/Pence 2020 ticket.
When Erickson ultimately did make the endorsement it marked a full reversal of his relationship with the president. During the 2016 Republican primary, Erickson disinvited Trump from his RedState “Gathering” conference following Trump’s “blood” feud with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Trump retaliated by dubbing Erickson “a total low life” and a “dummy with no ‘it’ factor” who was supposedly “fired like a dog from RedState” and instead “leading opposition against me.” (Erickson resigned from RedState, the site he had led since 2005. He was not fired.)
The White House took note of Erickson’s Trump endorsement in February, and the president once again reached out to express his gratitude. But the two played a game of “phone tag,” before Erickson was able to reconnect with the administration.
“[Trump] called while I was at dinner and I missed him,” he said. “His assistant called back the next day and left a voicemail and I called back,” Erickson said, recalling that the exchange took place on February 13. “When I called back I didn't speak to him. I spoke to his assistant and just reiterated I meant it and was happy to help them.”
The communications between the two parties has continued since then. According to Erickson and the senior administration official, the Resurgent editor was on White House grounds a couple of weeks ago to have lunch with Vice President Pence. Erickson described it as an informal meeting during which the two simply caught up.
“We are generally taking a ‘don’t rule out anyone’ approach to 2020,” the official said. “We now have a record to run on. We’re open to having [conversations] with Never Trumpers who are coming around.”