Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and even during his primary campaign, a new class of political consultants, experts and media whizzes have come out of the woodwork to claim their share of the victory.
The 2016 campaign was different, to be sure. Trump dispatched 16 other Republicans, including two of Florida’s favorite sons, to win his party’s nomination. And he did so without much of a budget and with only a few paid staffers until the general election was in sight.
In the nearly two years since Election Day 2016, Karen Giorno has pitched herself as instrumental to Trump’s electoral success as well as wins by other Republican presidents. Her affiliation with the Trump campaign has been used to give street cred to state-level candidates in Florida who lack traction with Trump’s voters.
The most recent to earn the honor are Toby Overdorf, who faces Sasha Dadan in the Republican primary for House District 83, and Belinda Keiser, who faces state Rep. Gayle Harrell in the Republican primary for Senate District 25.
In both endorsements, her bio sketch follows a similar track. The one appended to Overdorf’s endorsement, which bore the headline “Trump campaign leader Karen Giorno endorses Overdorf,” is as follows:
“Giorno has spent three decades as a political consultant and operative working with presidential candidates and campaigns, four American presidents, and the governor of Florida. She was the first female state director for the Trump Campaign. Following her leadership in President Trump’s historic Florida Primary win, she worked to secure delegates in eleven southern states for Delegate Operations and joined the National Team at Trump Tower, where she was in charge of National Voter and Women’s Engagement during the general election.”
It’s a good elevator speech-version of her background story, and according to many key members of Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign, that’s exactly what it is.
After Giorno endorsed Overdorf and Keiser, Annie Marie Delgado had had enough.
The former Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman has known Trump personally for years and was behind his bid for the presidency on day one. In fact, she takes a bit of pride in being the only person who was with Trump’s Florida operation throughout the primary, general election and into his nascent 2020 re-election bid — she currently heads up Trump Team 2020 Florida, an official chartered organization of the Republican Party of Florida in Palm Beach County.
It was one thing when Giorno claimed to be a “campaign leader” during her failed run for national committeewoman, during which she claimed to have endorsements from Trump and Gov. Rick Scott but never produced them. Now that she’s expanded into offering endorsements in Republican primaries, Delgado said she and others are ready to speak out.
Delgado said she believed Giorno was a “pathological liar” that was “divisive and derisive” during her brief tenure on the frontlines of Trump’s Florida campaign, a job that she was removed from — “fired,” in Delgado’s words — in favor of veteran campaign operative Susie Wiles.
“I’m shocked, quite frankly, that this woman continues to portray herself as part of the Trump campaign, or as connected to Trump in any way whatsoever,” Delgado said.
Giorno was hired by Trump out of New Jersey in late October 2015 and subsequently sent down to Florida after a stern warning from then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who reportedly told Trump at the time, “If I were you, I would run as fast as you can away from that person.”
Regarding her three decades in political work, Delgado took a more diplomatic approach. “ drew out… many people who were never involved in politics,” she said.
Still, Giorno landed in the Sunshine State ready to go to work for Trump.
She had worked in Florida before — she had a position in the early days of the Scott Administration, but after an episode at a Disney GOP fundraiser where she yelled at Republican Party of Florida staffers and donors before being told “to leave the room and not come back” put an end to that. The acrimonious split went down as a resignation.
Five years later, there was no evidence of an attitude adjustment, according to Anthony Stephens, a Leon County volunteer on the Trump 2016 campaign.
Stephens started putting in hours early on in the campaign, and says he never once saw Giorno in the capital, greater Big Bend or Panhandle areas, yet she aimed to micromanage operations from a distance by way of regular conference calls from New York.
When Hurricane Hermine tore through north Florida in September 2016, Stephens and other volunteers thought it would be a prime opportunity to reach out to voters by having Trump campaign RVs drive in and deliver relief supplies.
Giorno scoffed at the idea, leading Stephens to circumvent her by calling campaign HQ in New York, which gladly green-lit the proposal.
Several paid staffers hired by Giorno stuck around after she was ousted from the Florida job, Stephens said, but they just as often came off as saboteurs as they did actual Trump supporters — those staffers would often hoard promotional campaign materials despite numerous supporters looking for some yard flair or a T-shirt to wear at the height of the campaign season.
Reports of that kind of behavior were corroborated by more than a few people involved with the campaign in other regions of the state, with some going so far as to say they believed Giorno and an associate were selling campaign signs, shirts and hats on eBay and pocketing the proceeds.
Many staffers and volunteers were at least willing to corroborate that there was a warehouse in Volusia County stocked full of yard signs and other campaign merch that wasn’t being distributed unless people showed up and took it, most of the time over the flaccid protestations of Tony Ledbetter, chair of the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee.
All the way across the state in Sarasota, Kevin Sifferman also volunteered early and often for the Trump campaign due to his enthusiasm and support for the eventual president.
At one point there were talks of him being moved up to a paid position on the campaign, which would have been a boon, since he had recently been laid off from his gig at Concerned Veterans for America.
Despite there being an office with Giorno’s name on the door at the Sarasota campaign HQ, Sifferman said he never saw her use it, or even enter the building. In fact, the only time he can remember seeing Giorno in the Sarasota area was for a campaign rally.
While attending that rally, Giorno struck up a conversation with a high school student and within days the young woman — who had no campaign experience but was reportedly proficient in ballet — was in charge of the Sarasota office. The paid position never came for Sifferman.
“She makes a lot of promises, but I don’t think she’s for Trump. I don’t think she’s for Florida. She’s only in it for herself,” he said.
Anecdotal reports of her behavior during the 2016 campaign are odd to say the least, but just as dubious are her claims of working for past presidential campaigns and four past presidents.
Longtime Republican operative Derek Hankerson says her narrative is baloney.
In addition to his extensive work for gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, Hankerson has worked on the campaign of every Republican presidential ticket since 1984, and his campaign bona fides led to him landing positions in the White House during the George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations.
During 2016, Hankerson served as the Trump campaign’s Northeast Florida regional director, and after the campaign’s victory, he was given a position on Trump’s transition team and was asked to volunteer at the inauguration — when Trump was sworn in, he was just 50 feet away.
Asked whether he’s ever seen Giorno in the trenches of a campaign, whether in 2016 or at some other point in his long political career, his response was clear.
“This person has stated that they worked for this campaign. I never saw them,” he said. “34 years — from Reagan ’84 to now — I never saw her. I’d never heard of this person until Trump decided to run, and she tried to run her Florida job out of New York.”
Hankerson, at times painfully, stuck to his personal code of “being a positive person.”
That was tested when he recalled a request that he made to Giorno. Upon Trump’s victory, he asked her — she was in New York at the time — to arrange for a thank you note to be sent to his mother.
“Every president and vice president since Reagan sent my mother a handwritten letter,” he said, adding that Giorno could have signed it herself and it would have been just as good.
But the request went unheeded, and Hankerson’s mother died shortly after.
When it comes to Giorno’s endorsements of Keiser and Overdorf, Delgado said they have about as much substance as Giorno’s resume.
“Toby’s a good guy,” Delgado said, glancing at a recent text he sent her. “I just can’t believe he got sucked up with that woman.”
Editor’s note: FP reached out to Giorno, but was unable to lock down a response from her.