GU Politics Fellow Tony Sayegh Talks Lessons Learned from 2016


For Republican campaign strategist Tony Sayegh, the lessons of 2016 are still not entirely clear.

Sayegh spent the last two years working intensely in the campaign cycle, both in his role as Executive Vice President at Jamestown Associates and contributor at Fox News. Following the Republican National Convention in July, his firm served as the lead agency on creative media for the Trump campaign.

When the election was over, Sayegh’s colleague Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service at the McCourt School of Public Policy, posed an opportunity to continue the conversation as a GU Politics fellow.

“It was a natural progression,” Sayegh told The Georgetown Review. “I thought that this would be a great place to encapsulate what I’ve learned over the last two years and try to understand what it means for the future of political campaigns and elections.”

Understanding the implications of Trump’s “less traditional style” campaign will be the focus of his discussion group, entitled “Has the 2016 Election Changed American Politics Forever? (Or At Least a Generation).”

“There are a lot of lessons to learn from 2016,” Sayegh says. “Some of them are temporary. Others are more permanent than people realize.”

One of these lessons concerns the transformation of the mainstream media from “slightly biased” to “decidedly biased” in its coverage of Donald Trump. Sayegh says this change represents a departure from the media’s coverage in previous elections. Whether it is a temporary change or a permanent one still remains unclear.

“The problem is that when you want to advocate more than you want to analyze, you are going to follow the evidence that reinforces what you are advocating,” Sayegh says.

“Donald Trump is the only president in my lifetime who does not wake up every day thinking about how to get reelected.”

During the campaign, pundits often discussed why Donald Trump earned so much “free media.” Journalists attributed this advantage to the “media’s obsession” with Donald Trump. But Sayegh suggests that the media missed why Trump was so popular.

“Donald Trump wasn’t just getting earned media for the sake of getting it,” he argues. “He was getting it because people were watching. People paid attention to him. People pay more attention to Donald Trump than any political figure in my lifetime.”

Of course, Sayegh acknowledges that the coverage has not always been positive. He concedes that questions over tax returns and other issues are warranted for any candidate.

Yet, Sayegh cautions journalists and others to avoid “getting caught up in process.”

“This is part of the old Washington stuff,” he says. “This is what has led journalists and members of the media to misinterpret and misunderstand Trump the whole time. They keep trying to analyze him by these antiquated rules.”

In the first one hundred days of the administration, Sayegh expects to see legislative action on Obamacare, tax reform and deregulation. He believes that the Trump agenda is “ambitious but achievable.”

In addition to national security, Sayegh says that President Trump will focus aggressively on creating American jobs. He calls this involvement in American job creation “unprecedented” in recent history.

For Trump’s critics, Sayegh has one request.

“What I ask people to do is to give Donald Trump the grace period the media and his political opposition seem to refuse to do,” he says.

While there are many reasons why President Trump stands out, Sayegh argues that his commitment to the American people over special interests should resonate “regardless of what you believe politically.”

“Donald Trump is the only president in my lifetime who does not wake up every day thinking about how to get reelected,” he says. “He truly wakes up every day thinking about how to do the best job he can, how to keep America safe, how to grow our economy and how to create American jobs.”