Many of the Donald Trump supporters who toiled long payless days last year to get the Republican elected president remain on the sidelines as plum national security jobs go to outsiders.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact Trump basically won the nomination without any real advisers,” Pratik Chougule, a conservative writer and campaign policy committee member, told The Washington Times.
The roster of Senate-confirmed appointees now at the Defense Department is confined to people plucked from industry and Congress, not the campaign.
Therein lies part of the problem, according to campaign workers: Mr. McMaster has no loyalties to the conservative activists who helped elect President Trump. Neither do Defense Secretary James Mattis or Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, neither of whom played roles in the election.
A campaign source said Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general who headed the Middle East region as Central Command chief, informally offered advice to the Hillary Clinton team.
Asked about this, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said: “The secretary was not active on any of the campaigns. He was happily enjoying his retirement west of the Rockies. However, I know he worked closely with Sen. Clinton while he was CENTCOM commander.”
Ex-campaign surrogates were aghast when Mr. Mattis pushed the White House to approve Michele Flournoy, a Democrat and well-respected Clinton ally, for the superplum post of deputy defense secretary. Ms. Flournoy, who founded the Center for a New American Security, was undersecretary for policy in the Barack Obama era.
For the now-vacant undersecretary post, which oversees policies and war strategies for all U.S. world commands, Mr. Mattis picked career diplomat Anne Patterson. The planned nomination was dropped in the face of conservative Senate opposition.
Insight into Mr. Mattis‘ views of Trump campaign advisers perhaps came from Kori Schake, a colleague of Mr. Mattis‘ at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. They co-edited a 2016 book, “Warriors and Citizens.”
“I don’t know any of them,” she told Politico when asked about the Trump team in March 2016. “National security is hard to do well even with first-rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third-rate people.”
To conservatives the bottom line was this: Mr. Mattis wanted to fill two of the most senior executive jobs with a Clinton ally and a moderate diplomat, neither of whom were on record as endorsing the Trump national security agenda.
“The main point is that folks who did zero for the campaign and don’t share the worldview of Trump campaign policies now run the Pentagon, State Department and NSC,” said a former campaign adviser. “And they are doing a great job of keeping out those who did get Trump elected.”
The person asked not to be named because of the need to work with the administration.
The deputy secretary appointment eventually went to non-campaign-connected Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive. John Rood, Lockheed’s head of international sales and former George W. Bush-era official, has been mentioned as the next undersecretary for policy.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican and an ardent Trump critic, has chastised the White House for recruiting from the biggest defense contractors — those who do billions of dollars of business with the Defense Department, such as Lockheed — to fill senior Pentagon posts.
How the Trump team is filling and not filling scores of Senate-confirmed positions and lower-ranking political posts is a history lesson rooted in the campaign’s chaotic gyrations. And always lurking in the background: Russia.
Mr. Chougule, a State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, was asked to join the Trump team in May after the Indiana primary all but assured the nomination.
He soon found that policymakers inside the operation were not held in high regard in New York. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a presidential adviser, and Stephen Miller, also a key White House fixture, spearheaded most strategies.
“I think there was a recognition by Kushner that there needed to be some semblance of a policy team,” said Mr. Chougule, who had worked for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential candidacy. “But even at that point, there were so few people from the policy world that were in the Trump campaign’s orbit that they just sort of borrowed people from other campaigns.”
“What you really had late into the game, the only people who were willing to sign up for the campaign were the ‘B team’ of the Republican conservative elite. They weren’t the kind of people you would necessarily put into senior positions,” he said.
This New York-Washington dynamic, as told by Mr. Chougule, helps explain why so few campaign workers landed jobs.
Mr. Chougule, now the editor of The American Conservative magazine, said he at first was stunned by the fact there was no policy committee office space in Washington. Then he found out there were few completed policy papers.
On a scheduled appearance at the Chamber of Commerce, the Clinton team briefed the business lobby on a multitude of issues.
Mr. Chougule said he told the group, “We don’t have a policy on that.”
Mr. Chougule said he did not seek an administration post.
Campaign workers could see their fate soon after the election. Not many made the cut for various department transition teams. The Trump transition office then came up with a new post-inaugural operation: “beachhead” operatives who would be instantly injected into federal management spots to watch over government until reinforcements — political appointees and secretaries — took over. Few campaign workers made these teams.
The Pentagon, for example, welcomed 24 beachheaders as “special assistants,” according to lists compiled by ProPublica.
Of the “beachhead” troops who invaded the Pentagon, virtually all won administration jobs. Only four had campaign connections.
“There was no shortage of people who felt they got screwed over along each stage of the campaign, transition and, in fact, into the administration,” said the ex-campaign worker.
An administration official defended the hiring process in an interview with The Times. The official summarized the process: “Most people in the campaign were taken care of. In some cases either they weren’t interested in pursuing a role, and in some cases they weren’t qualified for something [in] the specific job they [wanted].”
The Russia entanglement
In contrast, the previous Republican president, Mr. Bush, created a much sturdier advisory structure a year before he ran for the White House. Unlike Mr. Trump, he was not competing against 16 GOP rivals who stopped up a number of national security advisers.
On national security the Bush people put together “The Vulcans,” headed by Condoleezza Rice and occupied by a number of Republican establishment stars such as Paul Wolfowitz and Robert Zoellick. (Mr. Wolfowitz announced in 2016 he was voting for Mrs. Clinton.)
Mr. Bush rewarded all nine Vulcans with prestigious national security appointments: Donald Rumsfeld, who advised the campaign on missile defense, became defense secretary, and Mr. Wolfowitz his deputy.
The Trump world was different. Campaign workers found themselves immediately competing with transition folks and then the “beachhead” crews.
Making matters worse for them, conservative think tanks were networking to get their people on the inside.
It is difficult to obtain firm hiring numbers. One metric is this: There were 20 senior national security advisers in the Trump campaign. Of them, only a handful got jobs.
Former Sen. Jeff Sessions snared one of the biggest prizes — attorney general. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg Jr. landed as National Security Council chief of staff. Two others won lower White House jobs. Rick Dearborn is White House deputy chief of staff.
The figures closest to Mr. Trump fared better: Mr. Kushner and wife Ivanka (both registered Democrats), Mr. Miller, Stephen K. Bannon and former Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn all received prestigious positions.
“President Trump, Jared, Ivanka and others in the inner circle showed little to no gratitude to the vast majority of campaign staff and advisers even as they gladly accepted the widespread use of their free labor,” said the former staffer.
There was one automatic discard: Russia. People tied to Moscow in any way, such as energy investor and campaign adviser Carter Page, were dumped.
J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman and full-time campaign adviser, said his discussions with the presidential appointments office ended as the Russia scandal went public.
He believes the snub came because he had a couple of impromptu talks with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Mr. Kislyak and about 50 other diplomats attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July under a State Department foreign partnership program.
Mr. Gordon ran into the Russian diplomat at a law office reception, and the two chatted innocently about Russia relations, he said. In other words, the talks served as the exact type of exchange the State Department desired.
Later, as unsubstantiated allegations of Trump-Russia collusion arose, Mr. Kislyak became retroactively radioactive.
“I believe numerous Trump campaign advisers were effectively sidelined over the Russia controversy,” Mr. Gordon told The Times. “Even though President Trump calls the investigations into collusion a ‘witch hunt,’ after seeing all the bad publicity surrounding Attorney General Sessions, Gen. Flynn and Jared Kushner, he doesn’t want to take a risk on anyone else who was dragged into the scandal, no matter how unfairly. It’s a classic Catch-22.”
Project for the Common Defense
Mr. Sessions’ appointment likely was saved by the fact that his two contacts with Mr. Kislyak were not known until after his confirmation.
On the broader issue of hiring conservatives, the Trump White House does appear to be reaching out to bastions of right-wing thought, such as The Heritage Foundation.
“Heritage has at least [a half-dozen] folks either joining the administration or pending Senate confirmation,” said James Carafano, who leads Heritage’s military and foreign policy cadre. “That’s not my choice. I’d rather they stay here. And it’s not just Heritage when I look across the community. I think when we see folks actually joining administrations, they are pretty darn good from our perspective.”
A prominent Heritage legal scholar, Charles “Cully” Simpson, will be the next general counsel of the Navy. Five other Heritage national security staffers have joined the Pentagon, none of whom did campaign work.
Mr. Carafano, who worked on the Trump post-election transition teams, helped set up a networking operation called the Project for the Common Defense, giving the new administration yet another pot from which to draw people.
“Its members are well represented in the administration,” he said. “There is a big, deep bench on [the] foreign policy and national security side, so there are plenty of good candidates out there for pretty much everything. So some folks might point to a lot of folks who self-selected out or did not get considered for one reason or another, but there is still a lot of other talent.”
Another culling exercise was done by Republicans themselves. Fifty prominent national security figures in Washington signed a letter last August saying Mr. Trump was unfit to be president. That letter effectively ruled out all 50 for Trump employment, if they so desired.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and now a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that, in a way, history is repeating itself: Republican presidents surround themselves with nonconservatives.
“Are conservative credentials helping job applicants out?” he said. “No, because the guys on top aren’t really conservative. Trump is more a populist than a conservative. And Mattis‘ favorite think tank is [the liberal] Center for American Progress. Nor is McMaster particularly conservative.
“None of this means the principals aren’t serious about national security. The problem is that the people they rely on may not share their agendas. Then again, this is nothing new. Republicans have always been stupid about building their farm teams,” Mr. Rubin said.
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