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Donald Trump prepared for first Republican debate by offending Aerosmith’s Joe Perry

By | Published on Wednesday 4 August 2021

Donald Trump

Donald Trump prepared for his first debate in the race to become the Republican candidate in the 2016 US presidential election by pissing off Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, according to a member of his campaign team. Which, for any other politician would seem like an unusual situation.

Back in 2015, Donald Trump was still seen by many as something of a joke candidate. During the first Republican Party debate in August that year, the joke did seem like it was in particularly poor taste. But the debate also showed Trump’s ability to draw attention away from everyone else with his antagonistic style, a tactic that would eventually help to put him in the White House.

So, how does someone like Donald Trump prepare for an event that would begin to define his approach to politics? Well, in an in-depth look back at that election campaign in Business Insider, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski recalls: “We had a little bit of downtime before we went over to the arena. We landed the plane in Cleveland and we got a phone call from Don McGahn, who was then our general counsel”.

McGahn said on that call: “Hey, Aerosmith is close by. Do you mind if they bring their tour bus over and party with us for a little while?” And, Lewandowski goes on, “we said, ‘100% – bring Aerosmith over!’ So we sat there with Aerosmith about an hour before the debate, swapping stories [about] Aerosmith as opposed to doing debate prep”.

Gahn himself remembers it all slightly differently, however. While Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler was in the audience at the debate, it was only actually Joe Perry who turned up backstage.

“It wasn’t the whole band”, Gahn corrects Lewandowski. “It was Joe Perry. He was intrigued by the emerging Trump phenomenon. Remember, this was before there were any primary debates, and it was all new to everyone. Stuff that would be from Mars on any other campaign was perfectly normal for the Trump campaign”.

The encounter also wasn’t quite the jovial hour spent swapping stories that Lewandowski remembers, says Gahn. “By this point, Trump was getting ready for the debate, so Joe had to wait a little bit”, he remembers.

“On the way out the door, Trump says something about ‘rock stars have all the ladies’, which apparently Perry got mad at, because he’s been married for decades and takes all that stuff pretty seriously. After the debate, if you watch the film, Joe goes up on stage and finds Trump and proceeds to tell him that he’s married and he doesn’t sleep around”.

As for why Perry was there at all, that all comes down to politics. Although possibly the politics of Aerosmith, rather than the USA.

“The subtext is that Steven Tyler already had tickets to the debate through some other wing of Trump Org”, says Gahn. “Joe didn’t want to be upstaged – [he] wanted to meet with Trump rather than just go to the debate. Apparently, there’s a whole internal Aerosmith thing [surrounding] the political persuasion of the band”.

Trump’s campaign became further entwined with Aerosmith just a few months later, when Tyler threatened legal action over the use of one of his songs at Trump campaign rallies. He was also one of the few artists whose wishes Trump bowed to. Although with all the grace you would expect – Trump said he’d stop using Aerosmith song ‘Dream On’ because he had something “better” anyway.