Feeling betrayed, Trump wants a second administration filled with loyalists

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Former US President and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the “Get Out the Vote” rally in Conway, South Carolina, on February 10, 2024.

Julia Nickinson | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Sitting in the Oval Office at the start of his presidency in 2017, Donald Trump found himself surrounded by new aides who had worked with other prominent Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, his fiercest rival in the previous year’s primaries.

The “America First” president was clearly concerned that they wouldn’t put the US president first now.

Trump walked around the room in an inquisition style, asking each aide to pledge allegiance, according to a person who was present.

“He was questioning people in the Oval Office about whether they were loyal to him or their former bosses,” the source recalled seven years later.

But no matter how much Trump focused on loyalty in his first term, he found himself frustrated and disillusioned when his appointees chose other considerations over his instructions — their reputations, their future ambitions, even the Constitution.

During one meeting three years into his term, the president sat down with his third defense secretary, Mark Esper, a senior aide who was tasked with installing loyalists in the administration and other senior advisers. Aides wondered aloud how they kept missing the target and choosing people who weren’t loyal enough.

“Trump said, ‘We can’t let this happen again,’” a source familiar with the conversation said.

From Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowing the appointment of Russia special prosecutor Robert Mueller to Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to declare the 2020 election invalid and Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to reject electors, Trump has felt betrayed by the very officials who owe him the most.

Esper will also be one later Unceremoniously fired After his disagreement with Trump on a number of issues.

Now, as he contemplates a second term in the Oval Office, his fixation on loyalty appears to be growing, and some people who spent time close to the former president say they believe loyalty will be the only criteria for potential appointees if voters give him office. What does he want?

Trump has repeatedly raised the issue of loyalty in his public statements as well. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, he said He stressed this point at a rally. He has gone after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, rivals who were once his allies. By contrast, he sided with his former rival Doug Burgum, and Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, offered him his endorsement.

“There’s something about a lack of loyalty in politics,” Trump said.

Senior appointees since his first term say Trump’s success in a second term will hinge on bringing in people committed to his agenda. Trump and his allies did it Big plans to Second term – Memories are still fresh in our minds of a long battle that lasted four years against a hostile administrative state. But without committed allies in key roles, ambitions to eliminate federal bureaucracy, reform rulemaking, and cut budgets could wither and die.

“They have to be resolute in their commitment to the president’s vision,” a senior Trump official said of those who could find themselves tapped for good roles. “You are not elected, you are a member of the Cabinet as part of the executive, and your job is to understand and implement.”

“The headwinds will be significant,” he added.

Find “Shock Troopers”

Allies of Trump, whose term will be limited if re-elected, recognize the need for a roster of officials willing to implement his vision and ready to hit the ground running.

“You’ve got four years. You’ve got three or four major things you can get done — major things — and you should have the full support of a dedicated team,” an outside adviser to Trump said. “I think the president will get that.”

“We are not going to sit idly by and wait for the Senate, which is very divided, not even in the Senate,” a former White House official said, speaking of plans to send loyalists more willing to implement Trump’s agenda. “Conservative hands to get things done. Things will happen, even before Inauguration Day.”

Indeed, conservatives are laying the foundation for “Shock forcesTo take administration positions in Trump’s second term, one group, the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, is hosting a two-day “presidential appointee boot camp” on February 19 and 20 in suburban Washington.

The boot camp promises to give potential appointees insight into “the operating context in which appointees work to implement the president’s agenda” and “tactics appointees can use to help the president control the levers of power and thwart a hostile bureaucracy.”

However, Trump’s campaign team has tried to put a lid on a constellation of outside groups dreaming up wish lists for appointees and an agenda for a potential next term.

“The efforts of various nonprofit groups are certainly appreciated and can be very helpful,” Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, senior advisers to the Trump campaign, said in a statement in November. “However, none of these groups or individuals speak for President Trump or his campaign. We will have a formal transition effort that will be announced at a later date.”

Wells and La Civita declined requests for comment for this article.

The former official said the allies, who refuse to risk the vetting process, are promising to help “weed out those who might use subterfuge” to try to thwart Trump from within.

“This is an extreme sport, and we know there will be people who want to undermine the president,” the person added.

“If you’re Trump, you value loyalty above all else, especially because he sees Mike Pence as having committed a mortal sin,” said a political strategist with ties to a Republican who has been floated in the media as a potential vice presidential nominee for Trump. “.

This is precisely the thinking that has raised concerns about who might be prepared to take on a future Trump administration, as those at odds with him fear worst-case scenarios that threaten the sanctity of the republic.

“The starting point for Trump’s second term will be the last year of his first term. loyalty “It will be the quality that Trump will seek above all else,” said Esper, who was defense secretary. Small pieces As Trump struggles to come to terms with the results of the 2020 election. “He’s not going to pick people like that [former Defense Secretary] Jim Mattis or I will fight him. So the question becomes: What damage could be done over four years?

“It reminds me of ‘Game of Thrones’.”

As Trump’s lead in the GOP primary campaign becomes more solid, ritualistic displays of loyalty, especially by Republicans with stronger ties to a political establishment that was once alien to him, demonstrate his hardening grip.

After Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina – who challenged Trump for the Republican nomination before him Withdrew in November – He said he would Support Trump over HaleyTrump didn’t pause long before digging in the knife when the two appeared together in New Hampshire last month.

“You must really hate her,” Trump said of Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, who appointed Scott to his Senate seat.

Scott could only utter the words that appealed to Trump’s ears: “I just love you,” Scott said.

However, it’s not just Trump demanding loyalty as he prepares for his comeback campaign. Voters also feel a sense of loyalty, with Republicans today less likely than they were two years ago to believe that Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, according to a recent University of Maryland-Washington Post report. vote.

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, a one-time Trump critic, defended those concerns in an ABC News interview this month, echoing other allies for whom Trump’s 2020 election loss still looms over his comeback campaign.

Vance, who has been floated as a potential vice presidential nominee, said the results of the 2020 presidential race should have been handled differently in order to reach a “legitimate” outcome, with Congress considering multiple slates of electors.

It’s not just potential running mates or political appointees who assess the price of disloyalty; So do activists at every turn of the Republican machine.

“It reminds me of Game of Thrones,” a former adviser said. “They want you to bend the knee. If you don’t bend the knee, they take your property. They take your title. They take your reputation, and they throw you into the gulag.”

The demand has settled like a fog over the Republican Party, seeping into its cracks and stifling opposition, an outcome that gives credibility to Trump’s harshest critics, this person said.

“What I fear is that the idea of ​​loyalty means stopping being skeptical,” the former chancellor said. “There will be consequences if you do that, and that’s why I think there’s some credence to the idea that he’s a so-called authoritarian. I don’t think he’s an authoritarian, but he exposes himself to that criticism.”

“His idea of ​​loyalty is one-way,” this person added.

Others said that although Trump is prone to showing loyalty, he is looking to attract top talent.

“He wants the best available,” said another former White House official. “Loyalty is important to him, but I don’t know that it’s as big a test as that.”

History shows that even Trump’s promise of excommunication can come to an end. Those returning from the cold include Steve BannonTrump’s former chief strategist, and conservative media personality Tucker Carlson, who endorsed Trump in November but had previously written that he hated him.Enthusiastically“In a text message revealed in a lawsuit.

“There are a lot of people who he once viewed as disloyal, and then he enjoys putting them back in office,” said Mark Short, Pence’s chief of staff. “Trump loves nothing more than public reconciliation.”

This article originally appeared on www.cnbc.com

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