MANCHESTER — As the first Muslim and Pakistani-American to manage a major presidential campaign, Faiz Shakir will never forget how he felt at learning Donald Trump had been elected President in November 2016.
“To see him get elected, it was a moment that lasted a few painful days, it was like a personal slap in the face. There are people telling me I don’t belong,” Shakir said during an interview with the Union Leader.
“He says we should ban them, we shouldn’t be in government that we are threats to the nation. He said he wouldn’t even hire one for his campaign. I would hope people would never vote for somebody like this as an individual but they did and we moved on as a country.”
In 2016, Shakir was an adviser to Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who crushed Hillary Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary only to get steamrolled as Clinton used party establishment delegate rules to nail down the Democratic nomination.
Shakir does his best imitation of Sanders as he recalled a conversation they had soon after Sanders named him to run the 2020 operation.
“He called me right after doing a TV interview and said, ‘Faiz they asked me what it was like to name the first Muslim campaign manager. I said wonderful things about you but I want you to know I did not select you as a Muslim, I picked you as the best campaign manager I could possibly have,’” Shakir retold.
“I said Bernie ‘I want you to know I didn’t agree to manage your campaign because you would be the first Jewish-American president. I agreed because you are the best person to lead this nation.’”
Shakir, 40, doesn’t think much now about the merging milestone of religion and politics that he’s achieved.
“At some point in the future it will probably mean more. I try to be aware of the fact that there are people who see opportunities for Muslims and are hopeful for their futures as well, so I am trying to be a model in a responsible way,” Shakir said.
“I also have got to stay honed on what my job is.”
Born in Florida to Pakistani immigrant parents, Shakir went from Harvard undergrad with a Georgetown law degree to White House drug policy aide. He then became a confidante to now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and was editor-in-chief of the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress Blog. He even had a stint with the American Civil Liberties Union.
He remembers going door to door in New Hampshire for Al Gore back in 2000 saying, “It was a real satisfying result in the primary, a real downer for the country in the general election.”
Shakir even reached Wikileaks fame when emails leaked from John Podesta, one of Shakir’s former bosses at the Center for American Progress and a member of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle in 2016.
In one leaked email, Podesta said he chided Shakir for advising Sanders, telling a colleague, “Gave him a very hard time ... I have to say this does not go down easy with me.”
Shakir later told Politico of all the figures in the Wikileaks saga, Podesta came off as someone with the most integrity.
“Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with him, you get the sense that he always tells you exactly how he feels and doesn’t play games behind your back,” Shakir said.
Now Shakir totes a heavy bag in New Hampshire — how to duplicate a first-in-the-nation primary victory, this time as a contender in a field of more than 20.
“We aren’t fighting the same battles; it is a totally new dynamic but the past informs the present,” Shakir said.
“We have the advantages of a candidate who has run before and can win the state,” he said.
Patience is a must, he said.
“The key is understanding people who may have voted for him last time are kicking the tires of other candidates. We have to let that process play out.”
“We are confident Bernie’s strong human appeal will draw supporters back into the fold.”
Shakir also believes the current polls with Sanders in second or even worse don’t consider that many struggling Americans are not yet paying attention.
“I believe strongly our base of working-class voters aren’t checked into this race like you and I are,” Shakir said.
“As we get into the winter the number of voters who call themselves a likely voter will go up. If you have a turnout that is below expectations or at expectations, maybe it’s not going to be the best primary day for Bernie. If you have a primary day that exceeds expectations, that is exactly what we need in order to win.”