Jeffrey Lord was a little known conservative writer, erstwhile Reagan Administration bureaucrat and one-time movie extra when in 2013 he penned a column in The American Spectator that would put him on his current path to 2016 pundit stardom. Titled “Never Ignore Donald Trump,” the article laid out aspects of the Trump brand (“he’s colorful and blunt,” Lord wrote) that would eventually allow the one-time reality TV star to ride a wave of populist disenfranchisement all the way to the GOP nomination. “I thought he could be a serious candidate and my friends thought I was utterly insane,” says Lord.
Of course, Trump (who is known to obsessively track his press) noticed. And Lord received a letter from Trump. Subsequent articles would come in the male with Trump’s signature Sharpie scrawl of approval, “He would see something that I wrote and then he would scribble on it with a Sharpie,” says Lord. This was followed by phone calls and eventually in-person meetings at Trump Tower. And in 2015, before Trump declared his candidacy, Lord was appearing with some frequency on TV news as the resident Trump interpreter.
The two men have remained in intermittent contact. During CNN’s coverage of the Republican National Convention, Trump called Lord while he was on the air to express displeasure with the network’s coverage. “He is not pleased,” Lord told Anderson Cooper after hanging up with Trump. And Trump has said he will take Lord with him to the White House if he wins on Nov. 8.
Current residence: Camp Hill, PA
Education: Franklin and Marshall College
Political persuasion: Reagan conservative
Political experience: PA State Senate, press aide for Senate Minority Leader Richard C. Frame and successor Henry G. Hager 1973-1978; Congressman Bud Shuster, press secretary 1978-1979; Legislative Director and House Budget Committee staff 1980-1982; Senator John Heinz, executive assistant 1982-1983; Reagan/Bush Co-Chair and Warner/Amex (the latter now Time Warner) Andrew (Drew) Lewis, chief of staff 1983-1985; White House, associate director for political affairs 1985-1988; Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, congressional liaison 1990-1993
Network: Political commentator, CNN; contributing editor, The American Spectator
Viral moment: Lord got into a kerfuffle with Van Jones while discussing Trump’s early refusal to disavow an endorsement from one-time Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. Lord claimed the KKK began as a “terrorist arm of the Democratic party.” This of course sent Jones into paroxysms of exasperation. No matter, says Lord, who evinces a gentle and respectful manner on air – and in person. (For the last 12 years he’s been caring for his 97-year-old mother Kathleen, with whom he shares a home in Camp Hill.) “In truth,” he laughs, “I’ve hit it off with just about everybody there. I understand why they see you badly on television and all this but the dirty little secret is that off the air we’re all friends and we hang out together when we’re on these out-of-town trips.
Do you have a favorite sparring partner on the air?
Oh gosh. Well Van and I had this discussion about race, which wound up being on the front page of the New York Times to our vast amazement.
CNN does try to balance the scales between right and left.
They do and they’re rewarded for it. Obviously in the world of television, this works. They have quite deliberately gone out of their way to have Trump people there and Clinton people there and in the earlier stages Ted Cruz people and Bernie Sanders people. It’s been a very good mix. I’ve had a great time. They have been eminently fair to me. (CNN Worldwide president) Zucker has just gone out of his way. I really appreciate it. It’s been terrific.
How do you prep for appearances?
I’ve spent a professional lifetime with a lot of these issues. I worked on five Supreme Court nominations in the White House and wrote a book about a friend’s judicial confirmation experience. So I know a lot of these subjects already.
You’ve worked in politics for decades. But now you’re on TV. How has that changed things for you?
(Laughs) I have to say it’s amazing. I mean I’ve been around (politics) my entire life. My parents were very much into politics. He was the Republican City Committee Chairman and he held Calvin Coolidge’s old seat on the Northampton (Massachusetts) City Council and she was the Chairman of the Republican Women. I was associate political director at the White House from 1985 to 1988. And later, I would work for Jack Kemp at HUD. And then when the Clintons came in, you know, American government has that wonderful thing where you get a notice that says, “Thanks for your service, get out by noon, January 20th.” I thought once I left Washington it was the end of the world professionally and it turned out in fact to be just the opposite.
You did movie and TV work as an extra for a little while?
My first gig was playing a murderous neighbor on America’s Most Wanted. And then I got called to be an extra in The Pelican Brief. They hired ten of us and we just sat there for two weeks. I’m sitting there literally watching Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington all day long, getting fed like a king and paid $57 a day. And I’m thinking to myself, well this is pretty cool. They never used me. But I got called again to do True Lies. And then I did Shadow Conspiracy with Charlie Sheen, Sam Waterston and Donald Sutherland, which went straight to video. I thought this was amusing; Charlie Sheen played a George Stephanopoulos style White House aide. And I was a White House aide but I was playing a waiter.
And you believe that living in small-town Pennsylvania has helped you remain connected to the concerns of voters…
When you live in Washington you really are in a bubble. Your neighbors and friends are members of Congress or the Senate or they’re bureaucrats or lobbyists or journalists. When you come home here, you know, the guy across the street works at the local hardware store. It’s a totally different atmosphere. And so you have the opportunity to talk to regular folks all the time.
Being on TV almost every night confers a whole different kind of visibility for you, doesn’t it?
Yes, there is no question about it. Yesterday, when I got in from the airport at CNN. Just walking from CNN around the corner to the Time Warner Center there, to a restaurant I get stopped several times on the street from people who wanted selfies or wanted to talk to me. And this happens all the time. It happens here at home. I get stopped in the Giant.
New Yorkers are generally pretty liberal. What do they say to you in Manhattan?
In New York City I get plaudits for standing up for [Trump]. They like feistiness and the willingness to take on everybody. They like the man in the lion’s den aspect of the whole thing.
What will you do after the election?
I may stay, but that’s up to CNN. [Trump] has said that if he wins he was going to bring me with him to the White House. (Laughs) I thought to myself, oh my God, not again!
What if he doesn’t win?
Well I’ll keep writing and do whatever I’m asked to do, if I’m asked to do it, on television.
How do you deal with the haters on social media?
You get all these people who are just dumping on you relentlessly and it’s not particularly productive. I mean I don’t care. It’s the old Harry Truman business; if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. If you’re going be on television talking about anything and taking a stand you’re going to be criticized.
CNN just announced it parted ways with Donna Brazile after it was revealed that she shared the network’s debate questions with the Clinton campaign. This has led to some reexamination in the media of the value of partisan contributors. What’s your view on this?
Donna Brazile is a friend and I feel badly for her. But certainly I have complete confidence in the integrity of CNN. As to the general question of “partisan contributors” – and this has nothing to do with CNN per se but rather the media writ large – it is no secret that millions of Americans view “the media” as in fact “the liberal media”. Which is to say it is very safe to say that many Americans view journalists themselves as “partisans” who use their stories to push a liberal agenda. Many Americans on the conservative side see …journalists as reporters pretending to objectivity when in fact they are liberal activists disguised as journalists. What “partisan contributors” bring to the table is experience on the inside at the highest levels of American politics and government. And we are quite upfront about our views and are so-identified by CNN or other networks. In my case I do not work for any candidate. In the current election, I have never worked for or been paid by Donald Trump. I am a political columnist, author and commentator who writes or talks about all manner of subjects that have nothing whatsoever to do with Donald Trump. The notion that getting rid of well-identified “partisan contributors” would somehow lead viewers to believe that the remaining journalists are not “partisan” is something that in fact has long since been proven to be untrue.