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Who Would Staff a Second Trump Term?

Spineless sycophants, that’s who.
July 29, 2022
Who Would Staff a Second Trump Term?
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Donald Trump came into office in 2017 already possessing many of the instincts and inclinations of a mob boss—and he left office having learned a basic mob boss’s lesson, after a handful of individuals more loyal to the country than to him hindered his willful rule. Now, as Trump and his acolytes plot a return to power, they intend to make sure that if he’s re-elected, he won’t have to put up with anything less than total loyalty.

In a speech this week to the America First Policy Institute, a new pro-Trump group in Washington, the former president outlined his vision for his second administration. As David Frum recounted in the Atlantic:

Trump sketched out a vision . . . [involving] sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a “weak, foolish, and stupid governor,” and to fire “radical and racist prosecutors”—racist here meaning “anti-white.” The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials.

Of course, the defeated, twice-impeached president might not pull off a comeback. The House January 6th Committee is continuing to gather and publish damning evidence regarding his involvement in, and failure to respond to, the insurrection. The Justice Department reportedly has him in its prosecutorial sights. His support among Republicans is apparently deteriorating.

But a Trump re-election remains far from impossible. And if he does return, he will further erode public faith in government and end the rule of law—and he’ll do it with yes men.

Imagine his next cabinet. There won’t be the likes of Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, James Mattis, or H.R. McMaster hanging around—no one with a spine, let alone a conscience.

Former Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro, currently under indictment for contempt of Congress after he defied a Jan. 6th Committee subpoena, has offered some names for Trump Team 2.0. They include the bombastic Fox News host Jeanine Pirro as attorney general and Kash Patel, the sycophantic and ambitious former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes who was briefly the chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, as the director of national intelligence.

Next, imagine Mike Flynn, a convicted felon, as secretary of defense, Fox host Dan Bongino as the next FBI director. Secretary of Commerce Mike Lindell or Patrick Byrne. Tony Ornato as Secret Service director. How about Solicitor General John Eastman, whom a federal judge has said likely engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Trump? A Democratic-controlled Senate would reject all of these individuals, but who’s to say what a Republican-controlled Senate would do?

And then there are the 4,000 subcabinet political appointments each administration gets to make. Jonathan Swan reports that the Trump-worshiping nonprofit conservative world has been building databases of future loyalists to fill those jobs. The Heritage Foundation, per Swan, has organized fifteen conservative groups into a loose confederation to divvy up the work.

Among them is the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), with whom Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows has affiliated. CPI’s immediate priority “is to have at least 300 fully vetted ‘America First’ staffers to supply GOP congressional offices after the midterms.” They would have two years of Hill experience for the next Trump administration.

An outfit called America First Legal, founded by Stephen Miller, is focusing on “identifying and assembling a list of lawyers who would be ready to fill the key general counsel jobs across government in a second-term Trump administration.” The American Moment group, whose board includes Trump convert J.D. Vance, the GOP’s Ohio Senate candidate, seeks to establish a pipeline straight into government from Hillsdale College and other conservative schools.

Beyond the political appointees are the hundreds of thousands of civil servants who fill out the federal bureaucracy. Here, too, the Trump team has made clear that it intends to exert much more control.

The key tool for removing any disloyal civil servant is an executive order that Trump signed late in his term, in October 2020. It erased civil service protections for any government worker who has the slightest influence with policymaking, classifying such individuals as “Schedule F.” President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order on January 22, 2021, but Trump is expected to reinstate it if he is re-elected.

Trump had little time to wield Schedule F during his first term, but he would likely use it vigorously in a second term. Estimates are that 50,000 federal workers would come under Trump’s thumb.

Schedule F would effectively eradicate a century and a half of civil service reforms. After President James Garfield was shot to death in 1881 by a disgruntled assassin who believed he was owed a patronage job, national outrage overcame decades of resistance to civil service reform from machine politicians and party hacks. Fifteen months later, the Pendleton Act became law, putting an end to the notion that “to the victors go the spoils.”

With Trump’s reissuance of the Schedule F executive order, our national government would start to resemble Tammany Hall—a corrupt political machine. Mike Lindell might end up determining how federal health and safety regulations apply to the pillow business.

The consequences of this assault would be nothing less than the dismantling of orderly governmental procedures that, in the end, protect everyone’s freedom by curbing arbitrary and corrupt power. As historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote this week, “Authoritarian figures expect loyalty to themselves alone, rather than to a nonpartisan government.”

Of course, the danger is not confined to Trump. As Jonathan V. Last has emphasized, Ron DeSantis and every other potential GOP candidate should be asked their position on Schedule F and related issues. But Trump, still the leading contender for the GOP nomination, has shown he is ready and eager to use Schedule F. As his former deputy director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, Andrew R. Kloster, put it: “The first thing you need to hire for is loyalty. . . . [Y]ou can learn policy. You can’t learn loyalty.”

Any mob boss would agree.

Frederick E. Hoxie and Dennis Aftergut

Frederick E. Hoxie is professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and author of This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They MadeDennis Aftergut is a former assistant U.S. attorney and Supreme Court advocate who writes on national affairs.