Most of us have had at least one or two terrible bosses — the yellers, the credit-stealers, the sexual harassers, or the ones who possess that magical combination of confidence and incompetence. But would you want to work for Donald Trump?
That's a question a lot of Republicans in Washington are asking themselves right now. If you're one of them, not too long ago there were reasons to be optimistic. Only once since Harry Truman has a party won three consecutive White House terms, giving grounds to hope that there will be another Republican administration come January. The Democrats' nominee has lots of baggage that will hamper her bid. And there were plenty of different Republican contenders, any one of whom you'd probably have been happy to serve under.
But now the Republican nominee is Donald Trump. If he becomes president he's going to need a lot of help: There are approximately 3,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch, separate from the civil servants who remain even when the administration changes. While Trump may bring along a few toadies from the real estate business, it's not like he has a stable of staffers ready to fill all those slots. So they'll have to be drawn from the same government-in-exile that would fill the administration of any Republican president.
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And yet, it's Donald Trump. While the Republican electorate may be lining up behind him, it's a lot harder for conservatives who have committed their careers to some area like tax policy or military affairs, and now wonder whether they could bring themselves to labor in his service. If you work in the executive branch, you serve at the pleasure of the president, and are, at least in theory, committed to the president's agenda. You'll carry out the policies he sets, and may be called upon to act as an advocate for those policies and for him.
For a while now, I've argued that if you're a Republican elected official, it makes sense to endorse Trump even if you've got plenty of misgivings. If you're from a conservative district your constituents are backing him, and as erratic as he might be, he'll still appoint conservative judges and sign most, if not all, of the bills a Republican Congress sends him. So with a President Trump you'll get much of the conservative policy change you want, and certainly more than you'd get with Hillary Clinton, even if you're pretty sure she's less likely to start World War III or bring about the complete breakdown of society.
But it's one thing for a congressman to say, "Yes, I endorse my party's nominee," while it's something different to go to work for him, with his portrait on the wall staring down at you every day.
Understand that for many people in Washington, a stint in the administration is an absolutely unmatched line on your resume. Serving in the executive branch gives you experience and knowledge you wouldn't otherwise have had, important connections, an easy segue into ever-more-prominent jobs afterward, and stature that you can milk for a whole career. There are more than a few incompetent dolts in D.C. who owe their continued success to nothing other than the fact that "former administration official" is before their names.
And for a lot of people, it's simply the most interesting and exciting thing they can do in their field of expertise, where they're not just talking about what's happening but actually making things happen. If Medicare policy is your thing, of course you'd want to set policy for Medicare. If you're a foreign policy wonk, of course you'd want to work in the State Department. The trouble is that when your party is out of power, you just have to wait, cooling your heels in a think tank (if you're lucky), writing reports and doing analyses while you hope the next election comes out the right way and you can get (or get back) that administration job.
If you're a Republican, you've already been waiting for eight long years, and there are reasons to doubt whether your party can get back the White House any time soon. Its reliance on a core of white voters that becomes a smaller portion of the electorate with each passing year could mean more Democratic administrations for some time to come. Given the uncertainty of elections, it would be hard to pass up an opportunity to join an administration if you got one, because you wouldn't know when you'd get another chance.
But again: It's Donald Trump we're talking about. So at least in some quarters, people who would have been eager to work for the next Republican president are shaking their heads and saying no. As one Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration tells me, "The vast majority of Republicans I know — the foreign policy specialists — are incredibly depressed and a little embarrassed. Most of all, we're concerned about what a Trump administration would mean for U.S. interests and the security of our nation. I have not yet met a Republican who says they would work for a Trump administration."
Might some of them change their minds if Trump won and there was a fantastic job waiting for them in the administration? Maybe. It wouldn't be hard to rationalize it to yourself. You might say, "I'll try and keep the administration on a sane course, and if it becomes anything but that, I'll quit." On the other hand, then what comes before your name would be "former Trump administration official." So it might be better to hold out and hope that your wait won't last more than another four years.
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