Tim Murtaugh’s Comeback Story: How Trump Gave Recovering Addict Chance at Redemption

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Tim Murtaugh became a familiar face to many Americans as President Donald Trump’s communications director for his 2020 reelection campaign. As one of Trump’s most visible spokesmen, Murtaugh had a front-row seat to the most-watched campaign in history.

But just a mere four years earlier, Murtaugh found himself in a much different spot. After struggling with alcoholism for years, he was jailed in 2015 for public drunkenness and unsure of his fate. That’s when he decided to give up alcohol and focus on turning his life around.

Murtaugh would go on to work for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue before joining Trump’s reelection campaign. Today, he’s running his own communications firm. He joined “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about his new book—out today—called “Swing Hard in Case You Hit It: My Escape from Addiction and Shot at Redemption on the Trump Campaign.”

Listen to the interview, watch the video, or read an abridged and edited transcript below.

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Rob Bluey: Tim Murtaugh, you’re the author of a new book, “Swing Hard in Case You Hit It.” You’re somebody who our Daily Signal audience will probably remember as a return guest to this show. You’re the founder and principal at Line Drive Public Affairs and the former communications director for the Trump 2020 campaign.

Tim Murtaugh: Good to see you, Rob. Thanks very much. And there was a time where I was a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation as well.

Bluey: We appreciate your contributions during that time. And I’m thankful to you for telling this story. Take us back to in 2015. You are in a Fairfax County jail. It illustrates so much how far you have come in just a few short years.

Murtaugh: On May 16, 2015, I went out and as I liked to do at the time, got drunk. And at that time, I was charged with drunken public intoxication, something along those lines. I ended up in the Fairfax County Adult Correctional Center and that’s where I came to.

That day was different from many of the other times that I had been drinking too much because I was on probation for the second of my two DUIs, and I had 80 days of suspended jail time hanging above my head. And if I had gotten convicted of that public intoxication charge, I was going to have to go serve nearly three months in jail, and it would have been pretty much the end of everything. I would have lost my job on Capitol Hill. I would have lost my career.

My family was about at the end of their rope. My new wife didn’t know what to do with me, and so it really could have been the end of everything. And that’s the day I took my last drink, and I have never looked back.

I wrote this book for two reasons. One, because when I was in rehab—and I went to rehab five times—when I was there, I spent a lot of time in the bookstore buying titles and just devouring them. They were more autobiographical in nature, people writing about their own stories and how they made it through their battles with addiction. I wanted to write a book that helped people like me who are in rehab.

The other reason was, I had some opposition researchers coming after us on the Trump campaign. Back in 2020, they were trying to get reporters to write stories about me and my background. And I thought, if I just write a book about it myself, they’ll never be able to attack me with it again.

Bluey: Was it difficult for you to put it all out there?

Murtaugh: Writing it, actually, was cathartic. I’m not sure that there’s any single person who knows everything that I went through. My wife certainly knows a lot about it. My parents and my brother, my close friends and close relatives, know big parts of it. But I don’t know that anybody, except for me, knows everything else that I went through.

I’m coming up on nine years now since I took my last drink. And I know that any day I could slip and pick one up. If I had that first one, it would be a downward spiral from that moment. Writing the book was an exercise that helped me stay sober for that period of time.

When you have been an addict—and you’ve managed to defeat it—there is always that lingering fear that if I’m not careful this could come back and get me.

Bluey: What have you found to be effective in terms of resisting that urge?

Murtaugh: This is really just a story of how I did it. It’s not entirely about this. It’s half a political book, half about my life in the Trump 2020 campaign, which at the time, until this next one, was the most-watched political campaign in world history. There are a lot of stories from behind the scenes from that campaign.

But the other half of the book, it is about my struggles with alcoholism and my whole story. It is not a how-to book—it’s just a story of how I got through it.

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People might find some parts of it that they can relate to or at least laugh about because not every word of it is deadly serious. There are some ridiculous things that people like me do when they’re in the throes of all that. It shouldn’t be looked at as a how-to fix-it sort of manual—just how one guy got through it. That’s all it is.

Bluey: You work in a high-stress environment, political communications, and I would imagine being right there in the forefront on the Trump campaign was at the pinnacle of that. What were some of the ways you found to be effective in terms of keeping your mind on your work and not getting distracted by alcohol?

Murtaugh: There’s a lot of pressure in politics. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the presidential campaign, which I was, or on lower campaigns, which I have also done. Whether they’re races on the state level, congressional, Senate, governor’s races—it doesn’t matter. There’s varying amounts of pressure. It all seems like the most important thing in the world when you’re going through it.

It helps to stay busy for sure. I broke the day up into little chunks. Could I get out of bed and get dressed and get ready to go to work without having to stop for a drink? Could I get from home to the office without stopping to buy a drink? Could I make it through the day and not sneak out somewhere at noon? And then at the end of the day, can I make it all the way home without stopping somewhere to pick up a bottle or to stop and get a drink?

I relied a lot on Alcoholics Anonymous, going to meetings like that. I found using the Serenity Prayer, just helped me if I had a little storm going on in my brain and I was worried that maybe I was going to veer off to the side and do something that I shouldn’t do. Stopping for 15 to 20 seconds to say the Serenity Prayer really helped me sort of refocus and get back on the rails.

Bluey: Family played a big part in your recovery. You come from a proud family. Your grandfather is Danny Murtaugh, the legendary manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a two-time World Series champion. What role does family play for others who might be struggling with alcoholism?

Murtaugh: It’s a really big, very important part of it. My wife is a very private person and she doesn’t relish a lot of these details getting out—or any of them really. But in fact, a few years back, it was her idea to write this book. And if she had not been on board with it, I wouldn’t have done it. And the fact that she is on board, is an illustration of how important she has been to me throughout my entire recovery.

Without her, I think there’s no question that I would either still be in jail or I would be dead. I don’t think there’s any two ways about it. And my parents were very instrumental in guiding me to rehab and helping me.

Bluey: In 2015, you found yourself at a low point. Then, within a span of four years, you are the communications director for the most-watched presidential campaign in history. Did President Trump know about your circumstances and did others on the campaign know about what you were going through?

Murtaugh: I felt like it was my responsibility to tell them. I started on the Trump campaign in February 2019. It was about four years after I had already taken my last drink. However, I did have pretty checkered past and I did have a history with law enforcement. I had two DUIs, served five days in jail with some suspended time for the first one, served 10 days in jail with 80 days suspended for the second one. I also had a variety of different drunk in public and different public intoxication charges.

Opposition researchers, and anybody who looked into it, would find all that stuff in about 10 minutes. So there wasn’t any point in hiding it.

When I went to work in the Trump administration for Secretary Sonny Perdue—I was his communications director for two years before I went to the Trump campaign—I told Secretary Perdue up front as I was interviewing. And then when I was being considered for the Trump campaign, I told Brad Parscale, the campaign manager, that very same thing. I said, “You should look into this because this is what I’ve got in my past and the president needs to know this.”

At the time, Sonny Perdue said, “Listen, as long as you’re not drinking now, I really appreciate you telling me, you’re going to be fine.” And then Brad Parscale went and ran it past the president and came back and he said, “Look, the president likes a good redemption story. He likes a good comeback story.” He himself doesn’t drink because he blames alcohol for the death of his brother, but the president was aware of it. And Brad said, “You know what? You’ve conquered it, let’s move on. And if anybody comes after you, I’ll stand by you.”

And he did because a lot of reporters called us because they had gotten the material from the opposition researchers, and they were threatening to write stories. Brad stood by me, and the campaign stood by me, and the president stood by me.

None of those stories ever got written. We managed to talk them out of it and talk them into agreeing with us that that was in the past.

Bluey: Are there any resources that you would recommend to individuals who may be struggling with addiction right now?

Murtaugh: There is always going to be an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that you can find and get to. And they truly are welcoming. Anyone can walk in off the street and find people who understand what you’re going through. That helped me an awful lot.

If you need more than that, then find a way to check yourself into a 28-day program. An inpatient rehab program can do wonders for people. As for me, I went to rehab five times. So sometimes it doesn’t take right away.

I would hope that people pick up the book. It’s called “Swing Hard in Case You Hit It,” available on Amazon.com right now, or other retailers as well. I hope that they can find some humor in it, and also maybe find some way to look at it and say that I can relate to it.

Bluey: Tim Murtaugh, thanks so much for having the courage to share your story. We’re proud of all that you’ve accomplished.

Murtaugh: Rob, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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