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Andrew Clark is one of President Trump’s fiercest professional defenders. As Trump’s rapid response director, he leads the campaign’s daily battle to control the news cycle and rough up Joe Biden. But he hasn’t always been such a big fan of the president.
Clark was a regular Trump critic throughout the 2016 campaign, both before and after the election. And while he voted for the president in the general election that year, he made clear that his vote wasn’t for Trump so much as it was against Hillary Clinton.
“I am honestly not voting for Donald Trump. I did not support him in the primary, I was very upset when he won the nomination, and I think it’s been an ugly election on both sides,” Clark said in a TV interview just days before the election.
Clark said he was “tepidly” supporting Trump, who he admitted “has said some bizarre, entertaining and offensive things.”
That’s not the only time Clark criticized his future boss. In a series of opinion pieces he wrote for the Independent Journal Review, a conservative-leaning, millennial-focused website where he served as opinions editor from 2015 until mid-2017, Clark made clear exactly how much of a non-fan he was of Trump — even as he defended voting for him.
“It's time to put our voting preferences aside for a minute and admit it: Donald Trump is gross. He's not the kind of man you'd want your daughter or your best girl friend to date. At best, he's still initiated inexcusable encounters with women. At worst, he's committed sexual assault and broken the law. It is clear that Donald Trump is hardly a spokesman for virtue,” he wrote, shortly after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape became public and a number of women publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault.
Plenty of former Trump foes fell in line once he won the GOP nomination, then the election, in 2016. But Trump has a thin skin for criticism, especially from staff, and his team regularly has torpedoed potential staff hires on the campaign and at the White House for previous negative remarks about the president.
A few former critics have sneaked through — top adviser Jason Miller had to delete a number of tweets with the hashtag #SleazyDonald from his time working for Ted Cruz’s presidential bid when he joined Trump’s team in 2020. But most of Trump’s campaign are people who actively backed the president, or at least kept their criticism to themselves.
“It's time to put our voting preferences aside for a minute and admit it: Donald Trump is gross.”
If nothing else, Clark’s work for the president represents how much establishment Republicans have reconciled themselves to their once-uncomfortable marriage with Trump — and how closely their fates are tied heading into the 2020 election.
Clark told VICE News that he’s always been a Trump supporter, while claiming this story was a hit job from the liberal super PAC American Bridge, which did not pitch this story.
“I supported, defended, and voted for the president in 2016 and am working around the clock to get him reelected in 2020,” Clark wrote in an emailed statement. “Congratulations to the hardworking folks at American Bridge for finally finding an outlet to run their weak attempt at oppo research.”
Clark did tone down his Trump criticism a bit after the 2016 election — but unlike some other Republicans, he didn’t halt his criticism after Trump won.
In late November 2016, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Clark responded that he needed to find the “closest bar.”
Trump’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment about Clark’s previous remarks.
A loyal GOP foot soldier
Clark is a longtime GOP strategist who’s moved from campaigns to corporate work and conservative journalism. He was deputy digital rapid response director on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and a digital press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee for the 2014 cycle before heading over to the Independent Journal Review, which was founded by a number of former GOP staffers. After leaving the publication in late 2017, he worked at the National Association of Manufacturers before joining the Trump campaign in June 2019.
Now, Clark’s job is to push positive news about Trump and highlight Biden’s missteps. Through a daily cavalcade of press releases and tweets, he looks to shape the news cycle to make his boss look good and embarrass and wound his foe.
Clark’s old stories are no longer on Independent Journal Review’s s website — the publication revamped in 2019 as a nonprofit, non-ideological website and most of its old stories are no longer available — but more than two dozen of his old articles can be found on the Wayback Machine.
That includes a piece Clark penned after the final 2016 presidential debate with the headline “Forget Trump or Clinton. The Only Thing That Lost the Debate Is Conservatism.”
“All I managed to see through my television screen on Wednesday night was disappointment and a mirage for the conservative movement and what could have been,” he wrote, lamenting how Trump failed to push back on Clinton’s claims from a conservative point of view.
“Watching the Democratic nominee spew statements about broader policy that a freshman college Republican could refute while watching the Republican nominee allow them to go unchecked was painful,” he continued.
In another piece for the same publication, Clark compared Trump to Bill Clinton as he argued for Republicans not to abandon Trump.
“Are the comments insufferable? Yes. Trump is starting to become insufferable as well. But the pearl-clutching on behalf of Democrats right now — the same party that just twenty years ago voted for (and still praises to this day!) a man with the same reputation as Donald Trump (and numerous court records to back it up) — is also insufferable,” he wrote.
In December 2015, when Trump claimed he hadn’t seen any evidence Russian leader Vladimir Putin had killed any journalists, Clark dryly noted “Trump defending Putin. Interesting strategy.”
When Clinton called Trump’s Muslim ban “shameful and offensive” as well as “dangerous” during a Democratic town hall in January 2016, Clark approvingly tweeted that Clinton “nails the answer on Trump and anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
He also urged Trump to release his taxes and agree to release the transcript of an off-record conversation he had with the New York Times that touched on Trump’s immigration views. Clark questioned whether real conservatives would vote for Trump, who’s “not on the scale” of “basic party orthodoxy.
“Don't think Trump's liable for racists supporting him, but that's why his refusal to slam down the KKK was so problematic,” he tweeted after then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly rebuked Trump for his remarks.
And in May 2016, as Trump locked down the GOP nomination, Clark tweeted he was “sympathetic” to the NeverTrump Republicans — but said their criticism of the likely nominee was “a bit sensational.”
Clark in the Trump years
During Clark’s November 2016 TV hit where he discussed his tepid vote for Trump, he said that if Trump did win, “I might wake up and be like ‘All right, I have a lot of work to do,’ to hold him accountable, to make sure he is held accountable on conservative policy goals.”
After Trump won, Clark seemed to tone down his criticism. Like many establishment-leaning Republicans who were struggling to reconcile themselves to Trump’s win, he seemed to take the approach of encouraging the president when he made moves that a normal GOP president might make.
Clark celebrated the GOP’s Obamacare repeal push and Trump’s Supreme Court nomination fights, and defended Trump’s moves on immigration, while gleefully highlighting Democrats’ perceived hypocrisies.
But even in those defenses, he often kept Trump at arm’s length. In one Independent Journal Review piece from early 2017, Clark wrote that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway “stepped in it” when she claimed the media hadn’t covered a massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that had never actually occurred — before defending her broader point about foreign-born terrorists.
In another piece from that period, Clark conceded that “concern is warranted” about Trump’s criticism of judges before hitting Democrats for “some serious concern-trolling” after cheering President Obama when he took issue with earlier Supreme Court rulings.
He wrote a prescient piece right before the 2016 election about why he wasn’t counting Trump out, even as he said Clinton was the favorite. After Trump won, he wrote a heartfelt piece that both congratulated Trump’s supporters and consoled liberals, comparing their feelings to the tears he shed when his former bosses John McCain and Mitt Romney lost in previous cycles.
“Is a Donald Trump victory really as shocking or as scary as the media is making it seem? Do partisan caricatures of how awful, incompetent, uneducated, and dangerous the opposing candidate is ever pan out? Or is it just election-season hyperbole that, when the dust settles, looks more like rhetoric than reality?” he asked rhetorically in the piece. “The one thing we can all agree on is that Donald Trump's victory last night is a historic turning-of-the-page in American politics. When disgust with our politics is already at an all-time high, that might not be a bad thing.”
Four years later, he’s helping lead the effort to keep Trump in the White House.
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington. Trump is en route to Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)