One of CNN commentator Matt Lewis’ first memories is his dad taking him to the polls in 1980 and explaining why Ronald Reagan needed to be president.
Lewis’ childhood in rural Wolfsville helped shape his conservative philosophy, he said, and everything he does, including raising his two children and analyzing politics for national audiences.
The idea of political work didn’t come up until he was a Roy Rogers manager after graduating from Shepherd College with a degree in political science. He volunteered on Alex Mooney’s state Senate campaign against Jack Derr, a 16-year incumbent.
“Officially, my title was campaign manager, but I did everything from clean out his car to write his speeches,” Lewis said. “[Mooney] was sort of this young, insurgent, exciting rabble-rouser candidate.”
Mooney, the youngest Republican elected Maryland state senator, suggested that Lewis go to the Leadership Institute, which trains conservative activists and leaders, in Arlington, Virginia. Lewis did and wound up working there for four years as he kept helping with campaigns.
“The higher up I got, I started to see that actually I was, I’d say, I was too artistic, too contrarian to fit into, like, the typical Republican party operative type,” he said. “Eventually, it became very much about filling out spreadsheets and being kind of a good soldier.”
Lewis, 41, wears many hats as he podcasts, writes and speaks on TV. He is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller and regular columnist at Roll Call and The Daily Beast, among other media outlets.
“Getting to go on television and talk about politics is an amazing blessing, and to get paid to do it, it’s almost unfathomable,” he said.
Lewis recently appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” for a segment called “Conservative media’s deep divide over Trump.”
One guest said conservatives must vote for Donald Trump. Another pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton to take a vote away from Trump to make sure he doesn’t become president. Lewis said he can’t vote for either.
The values he learned growing up are part of why he’s had such a strong objection to Trump, he said.
He remembers his Wolfsville Little League team losing a game, and the winners chanting and showing off.
The way his coach, Andy Anders, reacted that day decades ago has stuck with Lewis. He called it a defining moment that helped form his political philosophies.
Anders insisted his team would defeat the opponents the next time, and wouldn’t act the same way, Lewis recalled, getting emotional.
“These are the values that I think make me stand up against Donald Trump,” Lewis said. “Because he acted the way that that team acted.”
Lewis said he tries to slip in stories about Wolfsville when he can during TV appearances.
In high school and college, he worked at Anders 40 West Amoco for five years. Then, he worked at Bill Watson’s Original Carryout, known for its fried chicken, as well as at Il Forno Pizzeria.
“It doesn’t matter where I go — I’ve been all over the country and all over the world — but Frederick County is always informing who I am,” he said. “Politics is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Without his father, who died in 2004, he wouldn’t have gotten where he is, Lewis said.
His dad was a correctional officer at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown for decades, allowing him to go to college.
Lewis said Frederick County was incredibly rural while he was grew up. One relative he went to school with didn’t have indoor plumbing until they were in seventh grade, he said.
Lewis, who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, remembers listening to the Baltimore Orioles on the radio because cable TV wasn’t available, and learning life lessons from baseball coaches and teachers.
His children benefit from living in the city because of the zoo and museums. But he wants them to learn the things that give him a reverence and respect for “a country way of life,” he said.
“I want to expose them to some cultural experiences that I didn’t have,” he said. “But I also want them to fish and hunt.”
His father taught him to play bluegrass and was in bands, such as Irene and the Country Rascals and The Gospel Travelers.
In Lewis’ teenage years, he played guitar and bass in alternative rock bands, he said. Playing in bands taught him a lot about what he does now.
He learned that no matter how good a band is, bookings at places such as Olde Towne Tavern came down to how many people the band brings in to spend money.
A writer and a band member both build a fan base, he said. The difference now is instead of mailing publicity postcards, he uses his Twitter feed.