How two old-school Washington insiders became the cool kids of Trumpism
The Post's Ben Terris chronicled the Schlapps' crisis of faith in a March profile:
The day after a tape of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women went public in October, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, appeared on Fox News to defend him.
A minute after his segment ended, his wife and fellow pundit, Mercedes, called to say it might be time to take a break from television.
Matt had done a fine enough job. He looked great — white teeth, whiter hair, purple tie, comfy physique of a lobbyist who enjoys a good happy hour. He had signaled his continued support for the GOP nominee while also denouncing as “repugnant” his language in the shocking “Access Hollywood” audio. And he seemed genuinely sympathetic when Marjorie Clifton, a Democratic strategist sharing the segment with him, began to cry.
But under the circumstances, it just looked bad, Mercedes told him. And the Schlapps had their five daughters to think about.
So Matt and Mercedes, members of the Republican establishment who had been defending Trump longer than most, drove to Victory Farm, their weekend home in Virginia, to ponder whether to stick with him. They split a bottle of wine and debated well into the night.
The decision was unanimous.
“We decided to double down,” Matt said.
“Of course we did,” Mercedes said.
The mogul’s “grab them by the p---y” banter may have horrified them, but the Schlapps decided life would be better under a President Trump than a President Hillary Clinton. And so far that appears to be true — at least for the Schlapps.
There are a couple ways to look at a decision like the one made by Mercedes Schlapp. It could be viewed as evidence of Trump's redeeming qualities — a sign that he has a knack for winning people over, despite his flaws, which is a valuable skill in politics.
Or it could be viewed, more cynically, as the blinding ambition of Washington on display.
Whatever the case, Trump has hired plenty of people who wavered on him or openly criticized him.
His last big hire to the White House communications shop was Anthony Scaramucci, who early in the Republican primary called Trump a “hack politician.”
Trump's first White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, objected when Trump said early in the presidential race that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is “not a war hero.”
“There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” Spicer said at the time.
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump surrogate, spent a chunk of the campaign working for a super PAC that supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). In television appearances, she criticized Trump for refusing to release his tax returns and for his business practices.
“He says he's for the little guy, but he's actually built a lot of his businesses on the backs of the little guy,” Conway said on CNN in February 2016.
Bringing aboard former critics and doubters makes some sense. The better they understand his weaknesses, the better they can defend him, perhaps.
By that reasoning, Schlapp is a natural fit. However, some people who were not unwavering Trump loyalists from day one have struggled to be effective on his team, in some cases because they were eyed suspiciously by their new colleagues. Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus comes to mind.
So, while it is possible that Schlapp’s late-campaign ambivalence toward Trump could serve her well in the White House, it is no guarantee of success.