Team of Vipers
Cliff Sims
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
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Chapter 2

Sims begins this chapter by describing his first day working with the Trump campaign team. When he arrived at Trump Tower, he found himself in — and what would serve as — the nerve center of their operations, which had been set up and  in full operation. Sims was made aware that he would be in charge of the team’s messaging. He records that, “Miller told me he wanted me to help sharpen the campaign’s messaging. So, one of my first tasks was to overhaul the way we produced talking points—the playbook for how allies all around the country would talk about the issues of the day.” With this, Sims was put in the best position to deliver for the team. Additionally, he would be helping those on the social media team to reach out to Trump’s massive audience. Trump had a huge following on social media, and it was necessary to interact with them as frequently as possible. It also struck Sims that Trump had tapped on the services of some of the best professionals in the industry. For example, Trump has picked Senator Jeff Sessions’ Communications Director to act as his speechwriter. Looking around, Sims saw that he was surrounded by professionals who were familiar to him, and for whom he had massive respect.

When Sims goes to the Office of the Campaign Chief Executive Officer, Steve Bannon, he comes face-to-face with the huge expectation that the team has on him. Bannon states, “The f—ing Yellowhammer is here?! The Hammer?! Epic. I know Yellowhammer. I followed it. I want you weaponizing everything. We’re not being aggressive enough. F— anyone who tells you not to do something. Let’s start wrecking some s—, okay? Good. Go.” In this statement, it is evident that Sims is being told that the field is wide open, and that he needs to do whatever he needs to do to accomplish the goals of the team. However, Sims is not comfortable with this sudden camaraderie; he had not met Bannon before, but he is now behaving like the two have been close confidants. He says that, “But that was positive, right? We had met for the first time minutes earlier and he sent me on my way like I was his closest confidant and with the fate of the campaign in my hands.” Here, Sims appearing bothered by the request for him to “weaponize” his social media activities is of notable significance.

Over the course of the following days, Sims gets involved in a wide range of activities for the presidential campaign. He indicates that while there were instances when he writes speeches for Trump’s rallies, most of his activities were concerned with social media management. Sims was always looking at activities on Trump’s social media campaigns, and offered ways in which it could be used to make the medium more responsive to the needs of the team. He mentions that, “Following Trump’s lead by emulating the way he liked to talk about various issues, I’d draft talking points for senior campaign aides, coalition leaders, and TV surrogates. I’d get emails from people all over the country asking what the campaign’s message was on just about every issue under the sun.” Figuratively, Sims’ position in the communications team is that of an engine, a critical component (of the success) of the team. It does not take long before Sims gets familiar with his work environment and befriends the staff on the team.

One of the earliest tests for Sims was when Alicia Machado accused Trump of calling her ‘Miss Piggy’ back in the 1990s, when he observed that she had gained a lot of weight. Viewing the incident as an offensive statement made by Trump, numerous media houses adopted the narrative and began castigating him for the perceived negativity. However, Sims and his team were always at hand to respond to these claims.


Sims appreciates that his role, as part of the Trump presidential campaign team, demanded that he did everything possible to maintain a positive image of Trump. As Steve Bannon had put it to him, Sims needed to do everything, including “weaponizing” the messaging. In the beginning, Sims was notably uneasy with the environment in which he works, as the sudden closeness accorded to him by the campaign CEO was concerning. However, he gains confidence upon realizing the other industry professions, whom he had known long before, who are also part of the presidential campaign team. Sims soon realizes that he is soon going to be put in exceedingly-difficult positions where he would have to defend Trump on a wide range of accusations, starting with the ‘Miss Piggy’ accusations.

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