Guest post by Milo Yiannopoulos
Laura Loomer, GOP candidate for Florida District 21, and campaign manager Karen Giorno
** You can contribute to Laura Loomer’s campaign here.
The house was haunted. That’s what everyone said. There was no other explanation for the strange things that happened within its walls, which confounded rational explanation. Joseph and Rosalie Giorno and their children had grown accustomed to things moving around the house, and to the noises, which had been easy to dismiss at first. But, eventually, even the dog got spooked, and wouldn’t go into the basement, no matter the inducement.
It was in this house in South Brunswick, New Jersey, in the early 1970s, that a young, third-generation Italian girl, Karen, was raised by a veteran-turned-police officer father, taught to pay obeisance to authority and to history, molded and inducted into the occasionally cartoonish patriotism of what would become Reagan-revolution Republicanism. Karen would grow into the small-statured but ferocious—and ferociously effective—political strategist who helped Trump lock in Florida and then the Presidency, and who has now resurfaced as the éminence grise behind 2020’s most unlikely Republican primary winner, activist Laura Loomer.
I have been slightly in love with Karen Giorno since the day I met her. I traveled to Florida to write a profile of my old friend Laura, but it is Giorno who has captured my imagination. Today, the latter woman has shed the tumbling southern Mediterranean tresses of youth for a poised, diminutive gravity, accented by straight, black hair. She looks a decade younger than her fifty-two years. But it is as though she carries the wisdom for the ages. And because she wears her scholarly inclinations lightly, sometimes you forget that she is so much smarter than all the other people who do her job. More than once, I found myself warming to a theme—medieval Christianity, or some insight into the human condition—only to realize I was reading the alphabet to Milton.
Karen Giorno Laura Loomer Campaign
A survey of Giorno’s early life reveals all the usual hallmarks of an over-achiever. She was political early, president of the College Republicans at Mary Mount University, and a student leader, president of the student body. She scored a White House internship—her first job—before she’d even left undergraduate school. Shortly thereafter, she passed up Notre Dame’s celebrated accelerated PhD program in American Studies, which admits four students a year, because she was called back to the White House to assist in the planning and delivery of George H.W. Bush’s May 1990 state visit from Mikhail Gorbachev. She was invited to meet both of them in the diplomatic reception room.
Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush and an assistant to George W. Bush in a White House career that spanned two decades and three presidencies, remembers Giorno as “a hard worker, steady and calm” and recalls that she was “appropriately humbled to have the honor of working in the White House.” McBride says Giorno’s organizational skills were called on to manage advance trips, “a complex task where the stakes are high and [there is] little room for mistakes.”
Before Giorno established her own consulting firm, Kingston Public Affairs, she served her country in a series of senior roles, many of them from inside the most famous building in the world. She was the senior advance representative for George H.W. Bush, then Barbara Bush, and then later both George W. Bush and Laura Bush, as well as Second Lady Lynne Cheney. She worked closely enough with three U.S. Presidents to be known by name to them. A close personal friendship with George H.W. Bush lasted twenty-seven years, until his death two years ago. She was the head liaison between presidents during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, responsible for co-ordinating with Bill Clinton’s team. The only President Giorno has enjoyed no interaction with at all during her political life is Barack Obama.
We meet in a spacious mansion, the house furthest from the entrance to a gated community. The interior is unselfconscious and homey, in sharp relief to Giorno’s slender, relentlessly glamorous public image. She has lived here for three years. Giorno cannot settle down anywhere, and says she may never own property, because it would keep her in one place for too long. This saddens me, because it speaks to a restless dysfunction I have seen in others who spend too long in and around politics. As an Englishman, I’m also dismayed to learn that she doesn’t drink alcohol.
Giorno, referred to by her younger staffers as “the skinny legend in charge,” lives with longtime companion Christina Minna, a retired recording artist. Minna was the lead singer of an all-female techno group in the 1990s which in its heyday toured with Nine Inch Nails. She grows butterflies in their kitchen, which is kept to an unseasonably warm temperature, even for south Florida, and festooned with webbing and oddly-shaped enclosures. I’m struck by the contrasts in Giorno’s romantic history. Previously, she declined a marriage offer from George H.W. Bush’s White House physician, and she briefly dated an astronaut from Houston in the mid-2000s.
An entire room on the first floor of this house is given over to Loomer for Congress paraphernalia. Upstairs, there is an impossibly-cramped office that feels like a sort of anti-TARDIS—somehow the ceilings are lower, but only in this room—with Lilliputian desks laid out for five or six assistants. I think I remember it from a television production of Lord of the Rings; else it was some uncannily similar rendering of Bilbo Baggins’s Bag End. It’s quaint and charming, but what happens in here is anything but: This is where they plot the humiliation and ruin of her clients’ enemies.
Karen Giorno describes herself as a creature of both Republican Parties, with one foot in the Reagan era and another in the ascendant populist, nationalist strain of generation Trump. I ask if she favors one over the other, and she says No. But I wonder if this is really true, since Giorno has, for decades, been at the vanguard of transforming the former into the latter. She has been a loyal attendant to Palin, toast of the Tea Party and harbinger of the MAGA era, who paved the way for the current incumbent of the Oval Office, who in turn foreshadowed and cleared space for a new generation of candidates like Loomer.
Giorno was there for all of it, deploying her political bilingualism to assist the new in deconstructing and dethroning the old. So I press her on the subject again. Which iteration of the Republican Party commands her fealty? Where is her heart? “My heart is in America,” she responds, without much consideration. This makes me groan and then pretend to gag. But she goes on to explain what she means, and I admit to greater understanding.
“I am an American before everything else,” she explains. “I really do believe in, and love, all the traditional, clichéd things about this country. The Americana. My father was a veteran, and both my paternal and maternal families were embroiled in World War Two. There were casualties on both sides, and these are stories I grew up with. I am a Reagan revolution conservative.”
Her allegiances haven’t shifted since her political genesis, she insists. “I’ve stayed in the same place I always was. And I’ve lost work as a result of cleaving to what I call ‘true north.’ It all sounds very hokey, but it’s what I believe.” Giorno’s “true north” is the conservatism of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. She can quote from both from memory, and at some length. But the idea of America wasn’t something Giorno merely read in a book, as so many Californians, who can’t relate to its founding story, are left to do. “I grew up around Princeton, New Jersey, part of the thirteen colonies, close to the sites of the battles of Trenton and Princeton. George Washington really did sleep just down the road. We were forty minutes from the Delaware River where he crossed in 1776.”
Over thirty years serving in the White House, and then managing clients and propelling them to high office, Giorno has developed a proprietary set of strategies designed to cajole, flatter, flirt and persuade others into giving her what she wants, derived from the great statesmen and operators she has been surrounded by since the age of twenty. She has a reputation for being a tough cookie and for being somewhat uncompromising about her clients’ or boss’s needs, but although she can be stern, she insists that she is never mean-spirited. “I may be Italian, but I don’t harbor vengeful thoughts.”
Giorno is occasionally a victim of the integrity that has drawn her toward populist, nationalist candidates. It’s an open secret that Giorno’s professional antagonists include Katie Walsh, former Chief of Staff for the Republican National Committee, whose relentless briefing against Giorno is said to be the reason the latter wasn’t offered a job in the White House after Trump won in 2016, despite the fact that she was the most politically-seasoned person on Trump’s campaign.
Her critics are right to be intimidated. There is really no equivalent to Karen Giorno elsewhere in politics. Keith Nahigian, a Washington, D.C. attorney who worked in the first Bush White House and has known Giorno for thirty years, describes her as a “real pro” who knows “how to strategize, organize, and energize a group of people to win.” Kevin Moley, former Ambassador to the United Nations and a former Assistant Secretary of State for the Trump administration, is just as effusive. “I’ve known Karen since she was a college intern at the White House,” he remembers. “Even then, she impressed with her energy and her ability to take charge when others couldn’t or wouldn’t.”
Moley credits Giorno with pulling off a hero’s welcome at the White House for Bush after he lost the 1992 election, when many staffers were paralyzed with shock and sadness. “Despite being the youngest person there, she took charge, reached out to the Bush political appointees [and] lined the South Lawn driveway with his supporters to give 41 a rousing welcome back to the White House. From that day to this, I’ve known if I wanted to get something done, Karen was the person to call. I’d be glad to work for her. She’s the bomb.” Moley is a Purple Heart recipient, so I take his comments about incendiary devices seriously.
The closest equivalent to Giorno in professional terms would be the Lincoln Project’s Steve Schmidt, although the two could not be more ideologically and temperamentally different. She has no female peers at all, which may explain why she attracts devotees and detractors in equal measure—that measure being “a lot.” This makes sense in an industry that runs on rumor; the handful of people in the United States who possess the very specific set of skills Giorno does are dwarfed by the number of poseurs, imposters, opportunists and confidence men.
Giorno inspires deep devotion and high praise from colleagues and clients, which has spawned a micro-industry of jealous former co-workers. Nothing has made mediocre Republican operatives dislike her more than Donald Trump christening her his “killer.” Yet spend a moment with her and it’s clear she is compassionate, kind and warm-hearted, if a little unyielding. She is an executor, not an executioner. Giorno, I have concluded, only attracts ire because she is a winner who coaches winners, and because she will do just about anything to get where she needs to go, and because she is a doer in a world of talkers.
She has developed a clear, though also unwritten, set of rules for managing candidates. Over three decades in American politics, this cluster of strategies rarely failed her… until she met Donald Trump. “For the most part, there’s a sort of cookie-cutter approach to my job. You cater a little to the uniqueness, but there’s a playbook. I tried to fit Donald Trump into this template, but it quickly became apparent that it just wasn’t working. He was creating his own playbook for success, and so I had the honor of helping to design it, here in Florida and nationally on voter engagement.” I tell her I am nodding off, because she sounds like one of the bores on C-SPAN.
She pivots, and she tells me something else about herself that she is reticent about sharing in print—a revelation: She is deeply, profoundly committed to her Christianity. It is only at this moment that I remember, alongside the mawkish dog portraits and inspirational quote pillows—this is a house entirely without male influence—that every room in the Giorno house has a cross somewhere in it, which makes a feel-good bromide under the television, “Inhale the future. Exhale the past,” even less forgivable.
Talking about her faith, I see Giorno sheepish, hesitating for the first and perhaps the only time. “I am radically in love with Jesus,” she finally confesses. “I have always felt as though God has a purpose for everyone in this life, and that what I do is a calling. I wake up every morning motivated by that. To make sure that America survives. That the Republic stands.” I ask why it took an audible intake of breath and two seconds between clauses to get that out. “Well, we live in an age where talking about your faith isn’t necessarily a positive.”
ven in the Republican Party? “Yes! It makes you sound like a loony.” This does not stop her from elaborating on her faith. “Man has his plans, but God directs his steps. I wake up every morning in communion with God, and I go to bed every night the same way.” I ask whether some of Giorno’s life choices make her relationship with the Almighty any more complicated. “If you don’t have a complicated relationship with God, it’s not an authentic relationship. But, through Christ, we are redeemed. He makes all things new again.”
Giorno’s affirmation makes my heart sing. She tells me that she has been born again since 2006. It starts to make sense why Trump, despite his own moral failings, has treated Christians so well in office: He has been surrounded for much of his political life by the faithful and the patriotic. As I’ve discovered of other Trump intimates, Giorno, who grew up Italian Catholic, perfectly embodies G.K. Chesterton’s “glad and angry faith.” Her—our—brand of Christianity makes space to hate the hateful.
Karen Giorno is a wise woman, and there’s something calming her—something reassuring in the deep domain expertise and unflappability. There is, buried in Karen Giorno, the delicate serenity of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, or one of those long white bars of Xanax, the kind they don’t give out too often any more. She’s also a minor fashion icon in her own right, always perfectly turned out in a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and Gucci or Jimmy Choo heels. “Five feet on a good day,” in her words, she is inexhaustibly proud of the fact that she shops in the “petite” section, because size zero clothes are too long for her.
There are other things buried in Karen Giorno, too—other identities that only surface if you know to ask the right questions. As Walt Whitman would have put it, she contains multitudes. A prize-winning essayist. A history professor. The mother she could have been. Pagan deities had aspects—incarnations of the gods that emphasized different qualities or responsibilities. Today we might call these different shards of an individual’s personality. Giorno the history professor is the most compelling of these aspects. You would never discover the encyclopedia in Karen Giorno unless you stumbled upon the right subject in conversation.
You would never know, for instance, that she had spent over a decade working at the American Museum of Natural History, or that as a child her family outings were camping trips to the sites of revolutionary and civil war skirmishes. Christina Minna interjects to tell me that Giorno took her on dates to battlefields, during which the latter would explain troop movements in minute detail while Minna smoked joints and marveled at her mind. I try to picture this, and wonder how on earth they are still together. “It’s my father’s fault,” Giorno explains. “When I was growing up, our family vacations were to Gettysburg, not Disney World.”
The best way to understand Karen Giorno as a phenomenon is to examine the political organisms she has nurtured and attracted. And it is here we find that she has, in fact, been a mother many times over. What Giorno’s companion Minna does for monarch butterflies from their kitchen in Palm Beach, Giorno has done for Laura Loomer and a half-dozen other candidates, gently coaxing them out of their pupae and helping them to spread their wings. In this task, she is as attentive as any polar bear and as alive to the dangerous of predation as any cheetah. The analogy isn’t perfect: Loomer is not a butterfly, for instance, but rather something closer to a death’s-head moth, one of the three species of the genus Acherontia.
These hawkmoths are associated with the sinister and supernatural, rumored by some cultures to carry a deadly sting, but they in fact merely raid beehives for honey. They get a bad rap for being what they are, maligned for things they cannot change, regarded with suspicion and horror for the mere fact of their evolution—hence their appearance in both Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Keats’s “Ode to Melancholy.”
English pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd, completed in 1851, presents a shepherd ignoring his flock, cozying up to a young woman, showing her one of the moths. The untethered wanderings of the sheep and the physical closeness of the young couple—he is, in today’s parlance, all up in her grill—together represent violations of the natural order and crossed boundaries. The death’s-head moth is a shorthand for a range of subtle but threatening transgressions against pre-existing harmonies.
As a campaign strategist, Karen Giorno breeds such moths professionally: Sarah Palin; Rick Scott; Donald Trump; Laura Loomer. “The significance of the moth is change,” Hannibal Lecter explains in another of the death’s-head’s cultural cameos, The Silence of the Lambs. “Caterpillar into chrysalis … and from thence into beauty.” It is into the death’s-head’s dark and mesmerizing beauty that the darkly beautiful Karen Giorno has guided her candidates. In so doing, she has birthed creatures with dense stores of resilience. In 1836, Scottish zoologist James Duncan wrote of the moth: “It is not easy to understand how a creature without offensive weapons, and unprotected by any hard covering, can either resist or survive the attacks of so many armed assailants.” Is there a better metaphor for the likes of Trump and Loomer?
During our time together, we are interrupted constantly by two massively irritating residents of her home: a one-year-old toy Australian shepherd called Sydney Seraphina and a one-year-old “Rat-cha,” a rat terrier-chihuahua mix, called Gigi Giana. The dogs, their names, their yapping and their handbag proportions disgust me, but I later realize that the only reason I truly dislike the dogs is that they have sensed evil in the house and want me out. They do not stop carping until my Uber arrives, many hours later and after I have broken two wine glasses coping with the din.
Her professional apotheosis may have been her many and varied contributions to Trump’s 2016 victory—everyone in Republican politics claims to have had a hand in that, but only a few people really did, and Giorno is one of them—but with Laura Loomer she is proving that even with difficult and unlikely source material, she can still churn out bestsellers. She keeps trying to retire, or mature out of party politics, she says, but keeps getting thrust, or seduced, back in by the challenge of dark horse candidates.
Listen carefully to one of Laura Loomer’s barnstorming speeches and you can hear Giorno peering out from behind expressions of the principles they share. “I’m going to win because I understand something my opponents don’t about the soul of the American people,” Loomer recently told a room of Republican activists. “We are a nation defined by willful determination, defined by our refusal to accept failure or defeat, and defined by a fighting spirit that I have embraced all my life.” This is pure Giorno, and, true to form, when I bring it up, she can’t help but pepper the conversation with historical examples.
“Most of Edison’s inventions were failures,” she observes. “But if he hadn’t carried on, imagine what we might have lost. Even Lincoln failed more than he succeeded. He didn’t get re-elected to Congress. He failed to ever get elected to the Senate. America is the story of men and women who stumbled and failed, only to get back up again and make extraordinary strides forward. It’s those strides that we remember.” As she describes this aspect of the national character, I can’t get the image of a stubborn, petulant child out of my mind, and it occurs to me that these are just the sorts of personalities Giorno loves to work with.
There are things that still confuse me about Karen Giorno. She is a powerful and persuasive private interlocutor, but a surprisingly measured public speaker. She commands a room right until the cameras start rolling. Is it nerves? There is an old White House expression: “If you’re in the shot, you’re fired.” It communicates the virtue of invisibility in support staff, the idea that presidential advance teams should not make themselves the focus of attention. I wonder about this. Perhaps working with this President taught her not to risk outshining her principal.
But events, and success, are overtaking her instinct to live unseen. Giorno does not seek, but is nonetheless garnering, journalistic consideration. I am an unapologetic part of the problem. As one of the celestial bodies trapped briefly in orbit around Donald J. Trump, her shadow was cast long over America in 2016; now, with her latest candidate’s improbably astonishing performance in Florida’s twenty-first district, she is again emerging as one of the most interesting people in politics. Not a high bar—but one she clears with grace, and in blisteringly expensive shoes.
Karen Giorno, with her political dexterity and nerves of steel, was created for the America of 2020, as the country struggles to break free from chaotic and diabolical forces. “We’re about to lose everything I love,” she tells me. “That’s why I keep being pulled back into politics. I have bled for Donald Trump. I’ve bled for all my candidates. But it’s because I believe in that the things we are fighting for. They’re worth it.” Giorno understands that heroes are called upon to sacrifice themselves, which is why sniping from embittered also-rans doesn’t faze her.
She also understands that America is at war with powerful subversive forces, manifesting as Black Lives Matter, Antifa and, yes, the Democrat Party itself. “Everything beautiful and life-sustaining in our universe was created in an act of unfathomable violence that we call the Big Bang,” she says. “Violent episodes are sometimes necessary to get to where we need to go.” She’s talking about figurative, electoral street-fighting, not political violence, which she is quick to disavow in strong language. But the steeliness behind her eyes leaves me momentarily unsure.
We linger on the solar system. “I’ve always thought of Donald Trump as Jupiter,” she says, expecting me to know what she’s talking about. I apologize for disappointing her again. “Well, Jupiter is a giant gas planet, and, owing to its massive size, it protects the Earth from a lot of the flying debris and detritus in space that might otherwise hit us. Jupiter absorbs the blows to keep us safe. In 2016, I was keenly aware of Donald Trump as the Jupiter who would save the Republic. And I can’t retire until I am sure there is another Jupiter waiting in the wings.”
Is that why she came out of political retirement to mastermind Laura Loomer’s high-wire, high-risk bid for a seat in Congress? “Yes. She’s the future of the Republican Party. This is someone I consider worthy of investment. In five or ten years, when my life is devoted to philanthropy, I want to look back on my time in politics and see that I did everything in my power to defend our constitutional republic and safeguard its future.”
While I am in the Giorno household, I notice something that the political strategists’ assistants tell me is entirely normal—or at least, that they’re entirely used to it. Giorno breaks anything electrical that she comes into contact with. Giorno herself dismisses it as stupid, but the people around her are convinced: It is as if she sucks the juice out of coffee machines, watches, printers and phones. I’m all of a sudden left with more questions than answers about that haunted house, about the preternatural gifts her candidates have and the supernatural faith that Giorno does, and I am then aware of the fact that there is something faintly magical, or more properly, I should say, blessed, about this woman, and her ability to guide the hand of Republican statesmen and defeat Democrats.
It suddenly makes sense to me why she has talked about herself as being anointed for a greater purpose. I spent my youth rushing home from school to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a very silly television program about very serious things. Like Sarah Michelle Geller’s iconic, and similarly undersized, heroine, Karen Giorno is not always likable. But she was meant for something virtuous, something transcendent—and she is fulfilling that destiny, leaving behind a path littered with the bruised and beaten bodies of America’s demons.
** You can contribute to Laura Loomer’s campaign here.
** Featured post by Anthony Man
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