Gaining distance from Trump and some of his more incendiary statements is likely to be an easier task for some alumni than others.
Take Sean Spicer, for example, the most prominent example of a former Trump White House official whose life after Trump has been heavily scrutinized. As the administration’s first press secretary, Spicer was forever memorialized by Melissa McCarthy’s brutal satire on “Saturday Night Live” — Trump’s gripe with the sendup was that Spicer was played by a woman — and for fantastically clinging to inflated totals of the crowd size that witnessed Trump’s inauguration. Spicer later said he regretted such claims.
Since leaving the administration three years ago, Spicer has landed a few gigs on television, such as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and a show on conservative-leaning Newsmax TV. He has also penned two books.
But his career arc has veered far from the usual gigs secured by former White House press secretaries and senior administration officials. There’s been no cushy landing on K Street or high-profile consultancy at a major lobbying or public relations firm. It’s a fate that might befall many others in Trumpworld if the president loses — or even if they don’t relish staying on through a second term.
“There’s always a market for lobbyists, but look at someone like Spicer who had high-profile gigs in the White House and where did he land?” noted Amanda Carpenter, a Trump critic, CNN contributor and former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “He’s a host on Newsmax right now. That’s not the kind of leg-up to high-profile communications in the corporate world that’s the typical path…. If he can’t do it, I think people with such a high profile will have similar problems.”
Spicer appreciates the concern but says he’s doing just fine. He’s thankful for all of the opportunities he says he’s had since leaving the White House. “I’m living a very happy life and provide for my family and children, and for that I am very grateful,” said Spicer.
If Trump loses, “it’ll be challenging for Republicans everywhere” to find a new job, Spicer added. That’s just the way of Washington, where people “suck up to people with power, and they let go of people who let go of it.”
Over a dozen Republican strategists, former Trump administration staffers, current Capitol Hill hands and associates close to the Trump White House predict that many graduates of the Trump administration could have a tough time sticking a landing in the private sector.
They say Trump’s shaky standing in the campaign — and his pull on down-ballot races — is already making Republicans especially nervous.
“Quiet conversations in Gmail are more active now than would be expected a month before an election,” said a senior Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. “I have a buddy in the administration who is starting to quietly move his resume around, and he’s noticed people who he thought would be quicker to respond to inquiries have been less so. He called it ‘the Trump stink. How much Trump stink is on my resume right now?'”
For some Trump officials, leaving the administration for the corporate world could be seamless and welcome — a necessary pit stop to refuel before placing their bets on a horse for the 2024 race. And job churn is always inevitable if there’s a transfer of power in Washington.
“Americans have short memories,” Rodney Faraon, a former CIA analyst and member of the president’s daily brief team in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, who is now a partner with Martin+Crumpton Group. “One would think that the GOP would, as John McCain would say, ‘return to normal order,’ and then we can finally debate issues on the basis of real substance. But that’s the big $64,000 question. What happens to the GOP after Trump?”
Former staffers who have departed the administration are already finding out. There has been record turnover in what has been a chaotic and fast-moving administration.
Some former Trump aides have landed smoothly on their feet. Former senior Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett is now the managing director of a consulting firm and a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, for instance. Ex-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is president of the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm. John Martin, formerly of the Food and Drug Administration’s legislative affairs shop, is now at CRISPR Therapeutics. And Everett Eissenstat, Trump’s former economic adviser on international trade, is now heading up global public policy at General Motors. Others have simply returned to their old jobs, like former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who is back at Jones Day.
Some ex-administration and campaign officials have found refuge in the Trump reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee or in conservative media — see Corey Lewandowski, Sarah Sanders, Jason Miller and Boris Epshteyn, to name a few. Others who came to Washington to work for Trump were never going to slip in and out of the institutional D.C. class — and aren’t likely to try to do so in a post-Trump world.
And that might be a good thing. While the revolving door between government and corporate America has swung swiftly for decades and made many former officials wealthy, it also has been the source of intense criticism from good-government groups arguing that it has a corrupting influence on public policy.
Republicans say the ex-Trump aides most successful in transitioning are those who already had deep Washington connections. Those aides also stayed further away from the more controversial issues and investigations riddling the White House, these Republicans pointed out.
In several interviews, GOP sources pointed to Priebus as someone who successfully avoided being “viewed as a lunatic,” as a GOP strategist phrased it. Those inside the orbit of Vice President Pence might also be spared of some of the trickier problems facing their colleagues. Jarrod Agen, Pence’s former deputy chief of staff and communications director, is now vice president of global media and digital communications at Lockheed Martin, for example.
“Pence’s staff will be insulated more,” argued another GOP strategist who still works in Washington. “Especially as after-action reports come out about the role he played and the impact he was able to have on bigger decisions. His team ends up in a different boat.”
This strategist said more prominent White House aides such as Mark Meadows and Stephen Miller may have bigger hurdles than more anonymous mid-tier aides seeking a job.
“But I don’t think Stephen Miller ever foresaw a job on K Street,” the strategist added.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, is one of the most recognizable current Trump White House officials. Carpenter predicts she will have an even more difficult time than Spicer if and when she exits but adds that for someone like McEnany, who made her name defending Trumpism on cable news, the benefits of the job might have outweighed other prospects.
“A lot of people who decided to work for Trump somehow told themselves a story that they were doing a better, higher good defending this man under any circumstance no matter what,” Carpenter said. “The [conservative media] hosts who didn’t want to do that got wiped out.”
McEnany did not respond to request for comment. But Trump staffers like her, who will ultimately walk away from the White House with even bigger social media followings, are likely to fare just fine as contributors to Trump-friendly media outlets — such as Fox News or One America News — or by working with groups aligned with Trump’s worldview. It’s unclear how much those groups will thrive if Trump isn’t in the White House.
And, for some in Trumpworld, flouting the political-industrial complex and heading back to New York might be a relief. That group could include Trump’s family members, such as Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who serve as senior White House advisers. But as the president’s children have assumed greater roles in the Republican Party, it’s unlikely they will fade into obscurity.
“I don’t think we know precisely what [Ivanka and Don Jr.] will do, but to just assume that they go back to Manhattan and are never heard from again just isn’t realistic,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former RNC spokesman. “Regardless, there will be head scratching and soul searching — there may be another [RNC] autopsy, and there will be that question of ‘where do I go to get my reputation back?’”
A Trump campaign staffer said that no matter the soul-searching in which the GOP indulges, “the Trump movement, if he does lose, will not just go away.”
Trump is “going to get a lot of votes and win a lot of states, and there are elected officials who have tied their boats not just to Trump but the movement, and there will be plenty of opportunities for people to ride that movement,” the staffer added. “But yes, it is hard to move into the corporate world. There’s just that stigma of being a Trump person.”
CEOs and businesses have become increasingly critical of the president for stoking racial rancor. Republicans who now work with Fortune 500 companies agree that any public defense of Trump on race and immigration — the hot-button issues on which Trump has staked his presidency — are the most problematic public positions to have taken for those seeking corporate gigs.
“I know a number of folks in the administration who will do well coming out of the administration because they saw that ahead of time and ensured that their portfolios remained separate and apart from those issues and the investigations,” said a longtime GOP strategist who runs a public affairs firm.
For others, like a former longtime intelligence officer who now works in the corporate world, red lines on hiring include a track record of politicizing intelligence, along with defending Trump on issues of race.
“If you’re against Black Lives Matter, if you’re pro-Proud Boys, and stuff like that? I won’t look at you at all,” the former officer noted.
Many of those interviewed for this story did not want to go on the record in order to discuss private conversations with candor. But they say concerns about hiring people from Trumpworld are real.
“Good talented people will always be in demand in D.C. if you’re coming from an agency and understand policies that animate the marketplace,” said the first GOP strategist. “The challenge is when you actually get closer to the president himself. When you look at the people who have been defending the president vocally and are explaining some of the things he’s done, then things get trickier.”
The longtime GOP strategist who runs a public affairs firm recalled coming close to hiring a former Trump White House staffer until a Google search revealed the prospective hire’s track record defending Trump on race and immigration. It ground the interview process to a halt, the strategist said.
“A lot of people who came into this in 2015 and 2016, they knew that there would be a stigma going into this — and it’ll likely last for a very long time,” said a Trump campaign staffer. “Probably for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that’s lost on anyone.”