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Who’s most excited about Trump’s inauguration? His earliest supporters

When Stephen Stepanek, a former New Hampshire state lawmaker and Republican power broker in the critical early primary state, professed his support for Donald Trump in early 2015, a friend in politics sent him a card gently urging him to see a psychiatrist.

Today, Stepanek is enjoying a complete ticket package that gives him access to the inaugural ball, the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, the inaugural parade and a room at the luxury Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown — all the better to soak in a celebration that proves his skeptics wrong.

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He’s one of a small group of loyalists — some joke they should be called “the Mean 15” — who were with Trump on the basement floor of his barebones campaign, enamored by the businessman from Day One. “I was there before there were any factions,” Stepanek said in an interview, alluding to the power centers that have emerged under incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior strategist Steve Bannon, both of whom signed on with Trump after he clinched the nomination.

President Barack Obama famously had his small band of Chicago friends who supported him as a state lawmaker in Springfield, Illinois. They called him by his first name throughout the eight years of his presidency and visited the White House often, to keep him from feeling the deep isolation the office can bring.

Trump will have the Mean 15, who call him “Mr. President” but also have his cellphone number. The new president may decide to copy the White House style of former President Bill Clinton, who late at night consulted by phone with a wide range of old Arkansas political hands, some of whose advice he kept secret from his official White House team.

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“[Trump] won’t be isolated in the White House,” said South Carolina-based consultant Ed McMullin, another loyalist who helped the president-elect win the primary in his state and now sits on his inaugural committee. McMullin is scheduled to ride in Trump’s motorcade on Inauguration Day and sit on the platform during the swearing in.
McMullin first met Trump in the 1980s, when he was a college student and his girlfriend’s father had a box at Yankee Stadium, where the up-and-coming real estate personality would hang out. “This was before he was famous, he was building Trump Tower, and he took an interest in me,” said McMullin.

Today, McMullin describes himself as “judicious” in using cellphone privileges with the president-elect, though they speak regularly. “He will be a man in touch with real people,” said McMullin, who says he turned down Trump’s offer to join him in the White House. “I’m here to do whatever he needs.”

The feeling of loyalty appears to be mutual. At a luncheon Thursday in the presidential ballroom at the Trump International Hotel, Trump reminisced about the hard-fought primary, name-checking McMullin from the stage and asking him to stand up to be recognized. McMullin said Trump has also invited him to attend church services on Saturday morning with him at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Some of the original crew express concern about an incoming administration that includes political operatives who doubted Trump’s chances of victory when the going got tough. Priebus, for example, advised Trump to drop out after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that exposed his bragging about groping women without their consent.

For the loyalists, any sign of doubt about Trump burns because their allegiances were tested during the bumpy campaign. For Stepanek, the moment of truth came in July 2015, when early adviser Corey Lewandowski called him at 6 a.m. “Did you hear what happened,” Lewandowski asked. “We had a little issue with an interview that Mr. Trump did in Iowa about Sen. McCain.”

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Trump had escalated his feud with McCain by claiming he shouldn’t be described as a war hero because he had been captured. The swipe at a former presidential nominee of the Republican party and former Navy pilot, who spent over five years in a North Vietnamese prison, was thought—briefly—to mark a possible end to Trump’s political ambitions.

“I said, ‘Corey, I’m there. I made a commitment,’” Stepanek recalled.

He thinks it will help Trump to have people he knows he can rely on while in office: “I think it’s important for him to know there are people out there who, through thick and thin, fought for him.”

Lewandowski, who has clashed with members of the incoming administration, was not offered a position on the inside. Instead, he’s become another member of the outsiders’ club with a connection directly to Trump, setting up a lobbying firm with an office on Pennsylvania Avenue that looks over the East Wing.

On the inside, there are also some early loyalists — incoming White House staffers who maintain a special relationship with Trump outside their formal roles. That group is defined by Dan Scavino, Trump’s former golf caddy-turned-assistant to the president and director of social media; Keith Schiller, the retired NYPD cop who heads up Trump’s private security team, while doubling as a close confidant; speechwriter Stephen Miller; Hope Hicks, the former Trump Organization spokeswoman who has been at Trump’s side from the beginning of the journey; and Don McGahn, the incoming White House counsel who signed up early to serve as the campaign’s attorney despite the scoffing of skeptics. Hicks and Scavino declined to comment for the story about their special bond with Trump.

It remains to be seen how much influence and access the loyal outsiders will maintain once Trump is sworn in as president. But many think they can best help his cause by not working for him now. “When I saw him in New York after the election, he said, ‘Are you going to come into the White House?’” McMullin recalled. “I said, that was the one thing I didn’t want to do. I can be very helpful to him from the outside.”

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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