Obviously, the administration had every right to fire me. As a political appointee, I served at the pleasure of the president. But it was a mistake to purge me, and others like me — who genuinely want Trump’s presidency to succeed — just because we didn’t start out as lock-step, unquestioning Trump partisans. As a young Republican who believes in conservative values, I wanted to contribute, even if that meant occasionally challenging the administration’s view.
Now I, and others in my shoes, will have to make our contributions elsewhere, and the result will be a less constructive debate about how the administration can best move the country forward.
I went to work in the administration because newly confirmed HUD Secretary Ben Carson is a hero of mine. Like many young black men, I was inspired by Carson’s autobiography, “Gifted Hands”; I worked on his presidential campaign during the 2016 primary; when he left the race, I became his communications director; when he was nominated for a Cabinet position, I advised him during his confirmation process; and when I was offered the opportunity to serve on his staff at HUD, I jumped at the chance. I filled out a questionnaire as part of a routine background check — submitting information on my past work, writing, social media accounts, etc. I looked forward to working on Carson’s innovative agenda, but the op-ed, in which I urged conservatives to “stand up to Trump” for the sake of conservatism, was apparently a deal-breaker for the administration, and shortly thereafter I was let go.
Were my words sharp? Yes. Do I stand by them? Yes. Trump wasn’t my first choice in 2016 — there were other GOP candidates whose views better matched my own. But my intent wasn’t to run Trump down. It was to encourage conservatives to hold the Republican Party accountable beyond Election Day, no matter who won. And to send a message to Trump that there’s a better way to pitch a conservative agenda to a diverse America. That there’s nothing wrong with saying “Make America great again,” but what that motto means sounds different depending on who says it, and who is listening.
For example, in October in Gettysburg, Pa., Trump was right when he said that “we have failed our inner cities and in so doing have failed our African American and Hispanic communities.” But during his campaign, the crucial truth of those words was nearly always overshadowed by his frequent, attention-grabbing and many times off-putting query to minority voters: “What the hell do you have to lose?” One reason I wrote what I wrote is that I agree with many of Trump’s prescriptions for fixing what ails America — I just think he could use more helpful words to explain them.
And despite my reservations about the president, once he took office, I welcomed the opportunity to serve in his administration, to help shape and implement his policies — and work to find a way to communicate their importance, particularly in those precincts that he didn’t win. To increase black and Latino homeownership, foster community redevelopment in the nation’s cities and streamline an out-of-control federal bureaucracy.
HUD was an opportunity for me to join the dedicated professionals already working on these issues and put my conservative values into practice. Alhough my career as a political staffer has been rewarding, I felt it was time, now that the GOP controls the White House and both houses of Congress, to dig in and contribute to the change happening in Washington. For me, it wasn’t a dilemma to work for a president whom I’d previously criticized. He was elected to do things differently than in past administrations, Republican and Democratic, and I was up for the challenge.
I also believe that for his presidency to succeed, he should listen to different, even dissenting, voices if he’s going to get meaningful advice that will help him promote the best policies for the American people. Trump’s great strength is his willingness to upend the established political order. But he still needs a cross-section of conservative voices in his administration, not just advisers who see eye to eye with him on every issue. Indeed, one of the projects I worked on in my brief stint at HUD was planning a nationwide listening tour for Carson, so that he could hear views from a range of constituencies — exactly the kind of input leaders need to be effective and accountable.
Had I stayed on, that’s how I would have approached my job. I wrote the op-ed as an honest participant in the intramural debate within the Republican Party. Then Trump won the election, the debate ended and, like other Republicans, I got on board. To then be dismissed because of a perceived lack of allegiance to the administration seems at odds with the spirit of the 2016 campaign. It was hard-fought, and when it ended, Republicans who feuded began mending fences, as we always do. From my point of view, that fence-mending included me, too, because I believe the free exchange of ideas is essential. Candidates come and go, but what matters is the direction in which we take our country, not which candidate we backed.
The loyalty test I supposedly failed is counterproductive, not only because it rules out capable people who didn’t support Trump but who still want to serve, but also because it narrows the range of ideas brought to the table. Conservative solutions to the nation’s problems won’t be found by shutting out different points of view. They’ll be found by continuing to have the debates we’ve been having since 2015 that helped us take back the White House.
After getting fired, I briefly considered taking a break from politics altogether. But I quickly recognized that I need to stick around and fight for what I believe in, whether I’m at HUD or not. I recognized that to a conservative, particularly, being on the government payroll isn’t the measure of my, or anyone’s, commitment or contribution.
I’m going to continue to fight for limited government, economic empowerment and traditional values, and I’m going to wish my former colleagues well. I hope this administration succeeds.
But I also hope that as time goes on, administration officials make room for people like me. And that they remember that no citizen, up to and including the president of the United States, is above reproach. When necessary, we should critique him and then follow that up by offering a candid assessment of the problems Americans face, and our own efforts at finding solutions. That’s what I believe I did in this situation, and that’s what I would do if I had to do it all over again.