WASHINGTON — Sitting in the Oval Office in the infancy of his presidency in 2017, Donald Trump found himself surrounded by new aides who had worked for other prominent Republicans, including his bitter rival in the previous year’s primaries, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The “America First” president was probably worried that they wouldn’t put the president of America first now.
According to one person who was there, Trump walked around the room in an inquisition style, asking each of his aides to take the oath of allegiance.
“He was questioning whether people at the Oval were loyal to him or the previous bosses,” a source recalled seven years later.
But as much as Trump valued loyalty in his first term, he felt frustrated and disappointed when his recruits chose other considerations — their own reputations, future ambitions, and even the Constitution — over his instructions.
After three years in office, the president sat down with his third defense secretary, Mark Esper, a top aide tasked with appointing administration loyalists and other top advisers. Aides wondered aloud how they had gone on, missed the mark, and picked on people who weren’t committed enough.
“Trump said, ‘We can’t let this happen again,'” according to a source familiar with the conversation.
From Attorney General Jeff Sessions authorizing the appointment of Russia special counsel Robert Mueller, Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to declare the 2020 election void, and Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to disavow voters, Trump has been betrayed by officials who owe him he felt it was done. most of all him.
Esper would also be later unceremoniously dismissed After a disagreement with Trump on a number of issues.
Now, as he contemplates a second stint in the Oval Office, his loyalty is on the rise, and some people close to the former president believe it will be the only criteria for potential appointments if voters give him an offer. what he wants
Trump has repeatedly raised the issue of loyalty in his public speeches. Ahead of the Iowa caucuses, he he emphasized this point at the rally. He went after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, his opponents who were once his allies. In contrast, North Dakota Governor Burgum was with his one-time opponent, Doug Burgum, as he offered his support.
“There’s something about a lack of loyalty in politics,” Trump said.
Trump’s success in a second term will depend on bringing in people loyal to his agenda, say senior officials from his first term. Trump and his allies have big plans for second term — and the still-fresh memories of a four-year battle against a hostile administrative state. But without loyal allies in key roles, ambitions to dismantle the federal bureaucracy, overhaul legislation and cut budgets could wither and die.
“They have to be resolute in their commitment to the president’s vision,” one senior Trump official said of those available for plum roles. “You are not chosen; you are a member of the Cabinet as part of the executive branch, and your job is to understand and execute.”
“The headwinds will be significant,” he said.
Finding “Shock Troopers”.
Trump’s allies, who are term-limited if re-elected, know they need a slate of officials ready to carry out his vision, and are ready to get started quickly.
“You have four years. You’ve got three or four main things — the main things — and you’ve got to have the full support of a dedicated team,” said an outside Trump adviser. “I think the president will do that.”
“We’re not going to sit and wait for a Senate that’s very, very divided and not even internalized,” said a former White House official, speaking about plans to send loyalists better prepared to carry out Trump’s agenda. conservatives’ hands to get things done. Even until the Inauguration Day, everything will happen.”
“Conservatives are already laying the groundwork.”shock troops” In keeping with Trump’s second term administration, a group, the Republican Presidential Appointees Association, is hosting a two-day “presidential appointees boot camp” in the Washington suburbs on February 19 and 20.
The boot camp promises to educate appointees on “the operational context in which appointees work to carry out the president’s agenda” and “tactics that appointees can use to help the president gain control of the levers of power and thwart a hostile bureaucracy.”
However, Trump’s campaign team has tried to put a lid on the constellation of outside groups dreaming up appointees’ wish lists and agendas for the prospective next term.
“The efforts of various nonprofit groups are certainly laudable and can be very helpful,” Trump campaign senior advisers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a statement in November. “However, none of these groups or individuals speak for President Trump or his campaign. We will have an official transition attempt to be announced later.”
Wiles and LaCivita declined to comment for this article.
Refusing to take any chances in the vetting process, allies are vowing to help “destroy those who scheme” to block Trump from within, the former official said.
“This is a sharp-elbowed sport, and we know there will be people who want to take down the president,” the person said.
“If you’re Trump, you put loyalty above all else, especially because he sees Mike Pence committing a mortal sin,” said a political strategist with ties to a Republican who has been touted in the media as a potential Trump running mate.
It is this thinking that has fueled concerns about who might shape the next Trump administration, with those at odds fearing a worst-case scenario that threatens the sanctity of the republic.
“The starting point of Trump’s second term will be the last year of his first term. … Loyalty It will be an attribute that Trump will look for above all else,” said Esper, who served as the Secretary of Defense. cut short As Trump struggles to come to terms with the outcome of the 2020 election. “He will not choose people like him [former Defense Secretary] Jim Mattis or me who pushes him back. So the question is: What damage can happen in four years?
“It reminds me of Game of Thrones.”
As Trump’s lead in the Republican primary campaign has solidified, ritualistic displays of loyalty, especially among Republicans with stronger ties to a once-alien political establishment, suggest he has hardened.
After Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — who before him challenged Trump for the Republican nomination left in November – he said Support Trump over HaleyTrump paused before digging in the knife when they appeared together in New Hampshire last month.
“You’ve got to really hate her,” Trump said of Haley, the former South Carolina governor who appointed Scott to his Senate seat.
“I just love you,” Scott could only say, words that were music to Trump’s ears.
Yet Trump isn’t the only one demanding loyalty as he mounts his comeback campaign. Voters also have a sense of loyalty, with Republicans today less likely to believe Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election than they were two years ago, according to a recent report from the University of Maryland-Washington Post. request.
Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a onetime Trump critic, defended those concerns in an interview with ABC News this month, echoing other allies that Trump’s 2020 election loss still hinges on his comeback campaign.
Vance, a possible vice presidential pick, said the results of the 2020 presidential race should be handled differently for a “legitimate” outcome, with Congress considering a large number of electors.
It is not only potential candidates or political appointees who are calculating the price of disloyalty; So are operatives at every point of the Republican machine.
“It reminds me of Game of Thrones,” said the former adviser. “They want you to bend the knee. If you don’t bend the knee, they take your property. They buy your title. They take your reputation and throw you in the gulag.”
The demand settled like a fog over the Republican Party, seeping into its crevices and stifling dissent, a result that gave credence to Trump’s fiercest critics, the person argued.
“I’m afraid this idea of loyalty means ‘stop asking,'” said the former adviser. “If you do that, there will be consequences, and so I think there’s some credence to the idea that he’s a so-called authoritarian. I don’t think he is an authoritarian, but he opens himself up to this criticism.”
This person added: “His idea of loyalty is one-sided.”
Others said Trump was trying to poach top talent, despite being sensitive to displays of loyalty.
“He wants the ‘best,'” another former White House official said. “Loyalty is important to him, but I don’t know if it’s as much of a litmus test.”
History shows that even Trump’s removal promise can run its course. Includes those re-entering from the cold Steve BannonTucker Carlson, Trump’s ousted former chief strategist and conservative media personality, endorsed Trump in November but had previously written that he hated him.with passion” in the text message in which the claim emerged.
“There are a lot of people that he once thought were disloyal, and then he likes to bring them back on board,” said Mark Short, Pence’s chief of staff. “Trump loves nothing more than social harmony.”