I think it’s beginning to dawn on some Republicans who opposed Donald Trump last year that elections have consequences.
Two stories from two Washington Post colleagues in the past few days suggest anxiety in some quarters of the GOP. Apparently, life as an ambitious conservative policy wonk in a hostile GOP administration may have some unpleasant aspects to it. Josh Rogin focused on think tanks and the ways in which Trump’s team views them:
The president-elect favors people who have been successful in the private sector and amassed personal wealth over those who have achieved prominence in academic or policy fields. Those close to him, including chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, see think tanks as part of a Washington culture that has failed to implement good governance, while becoming beholden to donors.
“This is the death of think tanks as we know them in D.C.,” one transition official told me. “The people around Trump view think tanks as for sale for the highest bidder. They have empowered whole other centers of gravity for staffing this administration.”
Throughout the campaign, conservative think tanks tried to build ties with Trump, only to be rebuffed. The exception was Heritage, which is the think tank that forged the closest ties to the incoming administration. For the rest of the conservative think tank complex, however, it seems like a long winter.
Meanwhile, David Nakamura reports that some of the signatories to the numerous #NeverTrump letters during the campaign now fear that there might be real-world implications:
The president-elect has virtually no experience in national security and foreign policy, and his transition team could presumably benefit from the broadest pool of applicants for the influential appointive positions in the State Department, Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security.
But the purportedly blacklisted figures report to their jobs at Washington law firms and think tanks in a state of indefinite limbo as their colleagues, some working in the same offices, are flirting with potential administration jobs. …
“It’s hostile,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of further retribution. “It’s not just that we’re frozen out. . . . I was told they said there was an enemies list.”
This angst is coming from people who have been locked out of the corridors of power for at least eight years and clearly want to make their mark on American foreign policy. They are out of policymaking shape, and those skills will atrophy further the longer they are not in an executive branch position. No doubt, they have agonized over the dilemmas of serving in an administration that often espouses values that are contrary to the GOP foreign policy establishment.
For the love of God, people, what did you think was going to happen? Did you think that Donald Trump, of all people, would be the bigger man? Did you think that the foreign policy flunkies and D-listers who attached themselves to Trump during the campaign would now act like mature, responsible adults? Because if you did, maybe your threat assessment capabilities are not as good as you think — in which case Trump’s folks are pretty smart not to hire you.
Seriously, this is like Khizr Khan waiting by the phone call for an offer to be the next solicitor general. This was always the way these matters were most likely to play out. Whining about it is not a good look. Like, at all. Grow up.
My more considered reaction is that the signatories should take a page from some of the higher-ups at conservative think tanks and develop a longer shadow of the future. I don’t agree with AEI’s Danielle Pletka on everything but I sure as heck agree with her on this point she makes to Rogin:
Other leading conservative think tanks are planning to play the long game. AEI, for example, has many scholars who signed letters opposing Trump during the GOP primaries and so might not be well-represented inside the administration. Moreover, Trump’s plans on foreign policy are contrary to what the conservative think tank has long stood for.
Danielle Pletka, AEI’s senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies, said the think tanks that will succeed are those that stick to their ideals and allow independent scholars to pursue independent research regardless of the administration’s positions.
Washington is a town short on principles, so, in closing, let me make a careerist argument to these nervous Nellies: If you believed anything that you signed in 2016, now is not the time you want to join the Trump administration. The ideal time to join is two years from now.
Why? The odds are pretty good that the incoming foreign policy team will screw things up royally. The national security transition has been a disaster. Open conflict with the intelligence community has not gone over well. The unorthodox ideas that Trump has floated on foreign policy are likely to be rejected by allies and adversaries alike. The bureaucratic infighting is likely to be epic.
I have been wrong about Trump before. Maybe his Rube Goldberg contraption of a national security apparatus will work. But it probably won’t. In which case, like most revolutionaries, Trump’s people will have little choice but to turn back to the professionals he scorned during the campaign (though, admittedly, the damage that will be done in the meantime will be massive). Which is pretty much what happened in the first terms of the Reagan, Clinton and Obama administrations. And isn’t it better to try to be the George Shultz than the Al Haig of any administration?
Regardless of these arguments, please stop whining. No matter what Trump said during the campaign, words actually matter in politics. Own yours.