Political junkies who binge on news programming tied to the latest Washington developments might recognize Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL who turns up regularly on Fox News and CNN with a right-wing conservative brand of punditry. On a few occasions, Higbie has gone from commenting on the headlines to being in the spotlight — most recently in early February, when some news outlets reported that the Trump administration was considering him as a replacement for Sean Spicer.
“The White House press secretary thing was news to me,” Higbie said with a laugh in an interview with the Business Journal at Glory Days Diner in Greenwich, his occasional venue for business meetings. That unlikely rumor could be blamed on rival factions engaged in a White House turf war, he said.
“I was the lightning rod within the White House for those people that don’t like Sean Spicer. Would I take it? Sure. But I’m not sure that I would want that job,” said the Greenwich High School graduate.
Spicer might breathe some relief to know that Higbie is more than occupied running his Ameriman LLC consulting firm. Although Ameriman has been involved in 30 political campaigns, Higbie’s most high-profile election input was his unpaid advisory work early in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, where he helped focus the real estate executive’s often rambling presentations into direct messaging that resonated with voters.
“Early on in the campaign, when I was a surrogate of his, I took all of the policies from all of his rallies and put them in a series of three-bullet talking points,” Higbie said. “He used a lot of them. He made it very clear, very concise, very simple for the general public to understand, which is one thing I’ve always done with private companies and political campaigns. If you can take a complicated message and make it simple, you win.”
Ameriman began in 2012 as a legal entity to maintain the rights to Higbie’s first and controversial book, “Battle on the Home Front: A Navy SEAL’s Mission to Save the American Dream,” which he wrote while still on active duty. Its publisher was Ameriman LLC. “A friend of mine started the company for me, held it until I got off active duty and then turned it over to me,” said Higbie, who later transitioned the company into a political, business and communications — consulting firm.
As a consultant Higbie has taken a cost-effective approach to his operations. To keep his fees low, he works from his Greenwich home and uses independent contractors on an as-needed basis. He also tailors his fees based on the depth and scope of his services, which can range from social media to arranging and coaching for TV appearances to helping to set up fundraising events.
“It largely depends on what they need done, how they need it done and what it is going to take for me to get it done,” he said. “If it is a small thing, it could be $1,000 a month. If I am running complex things, it could be $10,000 or $15,000 a month.”
Higbie makes an effort to show what he can do for clients prior to the signing of contracts. As an example, he cited his ongoing informal consulting with Peter Lumaj, a Fairfield attorney and Republican who lost the 2014 race for Connecticut secretary of state and who recently started an exploratory committee for a potential statewide race for an as yet unannounced office.
“I said to him, ‘Let me see what I can do. I put him on Fox News twice and I said, ‘This is what I can do.’ And he said, ‘Okay let’s talk.’”
Higbie said most of his clients contact him directly for assistance, although he has occasionally reached out to candidates whom he admires — most recently, with the December 2016 runoff election in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District that resulted in the election of Higbie’s Republican client, former law enforcement officer Clay Higgins.
Yet his success on behalf of political clients did not transfer to his own run for public office. Higbie in 2014 sought to become the Republican candidate for Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, but the party’s nominating convention chose for former state Sen. Dan Debicella, who lost the election to Democratic incumbent Jim Himes.
Politics is not the sole focus of Ameriman’s consulting services. The firm also provides public relations and marketing support for corporate entities.
Higbie expressed particular satisfaction with his work on behalf of Strike Force Energy, a beverage company in Florida co-founded by ex-Navy SEAL Sean Matson. Higbie — who dropped out of Sacred Heart University after one year to enlist in the Navy in 2003 and fight in Iraq — coordinated an appearance on Fox News where the company announced it would donate 10 percent of its profits to Blue Lives Matter, an organization supporting law enforcement officers. Higbie said that Strike Force Energy’s sales quadrupled based on that TV news segment and a follow-up appearance on Fox.
Higbie also noted another client that recently came to him after working with four different public relations agencies without gaining any significant media attention. He blamed that on a marketing industry that overpromises and underdelivers.
“It is very easy for a lot of people to open up a firm and offer an opinion,” he said. “It is very hard for them to deliver results based on that opinion. I am a results-based, goal-oriented guy.”
Still, Higbie’s consulting strengths are not suited for every prospective client. “I’ve turned down a lot of people,” he said. “Someone contacted me about working on behalf of a handbag company — I know nothing about handbags.”
Regarding the man whom he helped to elect president — both as an unpaid campaign adviser and as a paid spokesman for the Great America PAC, which raised funds and rallied conservative supporters for the divisive candidate — Higbie praised the off-camera Trump.
“I wish every single person who didn’t vote for him or doesn’t like him would have the opportunity to meet him in person,” he said. “He is an immeasurably nice person. I’ve been in events and he’s picked me out of a crowd because he knows me from TV. He constantly thanks people that support him. He is so sincere and so genuine.”
“Look, he doesn’t say everything perfect, but he means what he says and he says what he means. In a world of bureaucratic b.s., that goes a long way.”