In the days following President Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — the only Republican to vote with Democrats to convict the president in the Senate trial — has been the object of almost daily scorn. Over the weekend, Trump singled out Romney in a long tweetstorm, claiming that he “hurt some very good Republican Senators, and he was wrong about the Impeachment Hoax.”
Earlier in the impeachment saga, Trump had directed his anger at officials who testified against him during the House impeachment inquiry, calling them never-Trumpers. They included career diplomats William Taylor and George Kent and former White House aides Jennifer Williams and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Last Friday, Vindman was fired from his position at the National Security Council.
Few observers are surprised by Trump’s fury at those who participated in the effort to oust him from office. Most, however, have failed to notice one of the biggest ironies of the Trump administration: It has repeatedly endorsed, hired and elevated critics and opponents.
Now that the effort to remove Trump from office has failed, perhaps the president should get serious about addressing the threats and bad advice, specifically when it comes to an unsexy but incredibly important element of governing: staffing.
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No Trump supporter who witnessed Romney’s gratuitous attacks on Trump in the last presidential election should be surprised by his impeachment vote last week. Nevertheless, Trump not only vetted Romney as his potential first secretary of state; he gave a full-throated endorsement when Romney ran for the Senate in 2018.
A Trump endorsement can decide elections. It might or might not have made a difference in Utah, but the president still offered it to a man who had repeatedly gone out of his way to hurt him. After Romney voted to convict Trump, a Trump observer called for the firing of the entire political staff that persuaded Trump to make the endorsement.
But the problem is much bigger than Romney, who was elected by Utah voters and has never served in the Trump administration. The current White House has also welcomed other never-Trumpers into the executive branch for political positions, which number about 4,000 and are filled by each presidential administration. They range from senior officials, whose nominations require Senate confirmation, to policy professionals, lawyers and speechwriters. In past administrations, a candidate’s allegiance to the president was vetted and considered a plus, if not a must. So why is the Trump White House filling any of these spots with people who have been openly (or privately) hostile to the president?
Why is the Trump White House filling any of these spots with people who have been openly (or privately) hostile to the president?
Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor summed up the absurdity of the situation on Fox News. “I think President Trump lost control of the whole appointment process in staffing the government shortly after the election,” he said. “He ended up appointing large numbers of people who subsequently brought in their friends, almost all of whom were opposed to Donald Trump and his agenda.”
Indeed, the appointment of never-Trumpers was aggressively championed and insisted upon by some senior Cabinet members. Some candidates were directly approved by the president himself, while others were proposed by White House political staffers as compromise picks with Cabinet secretaries. Many others slipped in because, despite their anti-Trump sentiments, they had not revealed — or were not asked about — their views in public. Some of the appointments appear to have been downright disastrous. Although many never-Trumpers hired early in the president’s term have departed, others have been elevated or reshuffled as new never-Trumpers continue to enter the administration’s ranks.
Despite reports that no one wishes to work for the Trump administration, the staffing mistakes aren’t being made out of desperation. A number of never-Trumper hires have been communications aides or foreign policy staffers with little specialized expertise. Washington is a town full of people boasting of public affairs skills or claiming to be policy generalists; if you aren’t finding these types of qualified candidates who support the president, it’s probably because you’re not trying hard enough.
Some Trump observers blame senior White House staffers for not acting in the best interests of the president, while others say the president himself has not given staffing the attention it deserves. It’s probably a little of both. Vocal Trump supporters, such as Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, have tried to persuade the president to spend more time thinking about his personnel, without whom he will have a harder time pursuing his vision.
When those hostile to Trump occupy positions of influence inside the administration, they can create political chaos and policy incoherence.
No president can navigate the federal bureaucracy himself. Which is why past presidents have relied on political appointees to help them execute their priorities. When those hostile to Trump occupy positions of influence inside the administration, they can create political chaos and policy incoherence and erect obstacles to Trump, rather than help him implement the promises he made to voters in 2016.
We know of at least one senior official who is doing precisely that, because the official bragged about it in The New York Times. Yet the administration still has not figured out who the person is, nor has anyone been held responsible for elevating never-Trumpers like the anonymous op-ed writer to senior positions.
Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson regularly sheds light on the policy consequences of hiring people who don’t share the president’s views. For example, when Republicans like John Bolton were beating the drums of war with Iran last month, Carlson noted that the American electorate chose Trump precisely because he promised to reject the “endless wars” pushed for by Washington’s foreign policy elites.
Since Trump’s impeachment acquittal, he has been firing staffers and attacking political opponents who participated in the failed effort to remove him from office. One thing he should seriously consider is firing every single never-Trumper political appointee in his administration. It would go a long way to helping Trump achieve the “Make America Great Again” goals he campaigned on in 2016.