A group calling itself the Trump Accountability Project sprung up to heed AOC’s call.
“Remember what they did,” the group’s sparse website declares. “We should not allow the following groups of people to profit from their experience: Those who elected him. Those who staffed his government. Those who funded him.”
Rarely a healthy sign in any democracy, the enemies lists started to freak out some normally unflappable Trump officials in the White House.
“At first I brushed it off as ridiculous, but what is scary is that she’s serious,” said a White House official of AOC’s tweet. “That is terrifying that a sitting member of Congress is calling for something like that. I believe there is a life after this in politics for Trump officials, but the idea that a sitting member of Congress wants to purge from society and ostracize us should scare the American people. It definitely should scare the American people more than it scares me. That type of rhetoric is terrifying when you have 70 million Americans who voted for this president. It might start with Trump officials but what if they go further?”
Before the election, when polls suggested an anti-Trump rout, some current and former Trump officials seemed to be positioning themselves for a new era when they would be forced to shed their association with the president. One top official at the White House became a bit of an inside joke among Washington reporters for sending conspicuous private texts taking digs at the administration and claiming to crave post-election life without Trump.
And some Republicans found it curious when a recent RNC official suddenly tweeted his support of Biden the day before the election. Was he having trouble finding a new job? Did he move to Silicon Valley or Portland, Ore.?
But the results, at least for the moment, have changed that conversation, with more Republicans on the Hill and Trump officials now insisting there may be less of a penalty for service to Trump.
Many top Trump advisers now say they’re not worried, and they point to the aftermaths of similarly controversial administrations as reassurance. They argue that if the Bush-era politicians and staffers who led the country to war in Iraq survived without being purged from politics, media and corporate America, then Trump’s advisers won’t either.
“The Bush people faced this,” said one of the president’s closest advisers. “Bush left office very unpopular, people thought thousands of people died in an unnecessary war and he was responsible for it. Everybody forgets that now that he’s an artist who doesn’t do partisan politics.”
This person pointed to the wealth accumulated by the two main architects of the war since Bush left office. “Don Rumsfeld did very well for himself when he left government,” said the close Trump adviser, who already has an unannounced book deal in hand. “Dick Cheney? I’ve been to his house in Wyoming!”
The close Trump adviser did allow that some staffers could have trouble in pockets of corporate America or Hollywood but the adviser isn’t personally concerned about finding work. “For somebody like me, I’m writing a book, I’m going to write a sequel,” the close Trump adviser said. “I get paid handsomely to give speeches. I have my corporate consulting. Maybe that’s not everyone else. But I can’t imagine I’m alone in that way. Are people going to say, ‘Oh shit, Mike Pompeo, you’re not secretary of State anymore so we can’t talk to you!’ Even the younger staffers — people still want people who worked in the White House. You have breathed rarefied air.”
Interviews with numerous current and former Trump officials reveal that while the talk of lists and permanent cancelation bubbling up on social media is worrisome, few are taking it seriously. Most Trump officials feel that the president’s better-than-expected showing in the election, the history of Bush-era “warmongers” (as one Trump official called them) easily re-integrating into polite society, and the myopia of both the news media and the loudest voices on the left will all conspire to allow even the most controversial Trump aides to continue working in politics and the private sector.
None of the Trump officials interviewed for this story seriously believed that Trump would prevail in the election, and it was taken as a given that they would all soon be looking for work outside the administration.
“There were a lot of Trump people who were afraid of this,” said an administration official. “If there was a massive defeat and we lost the Senate and he lost in a landslide, there would be this purge, both by the establishment Republicans and the Democrats. An employment and maybe even a legal purge against people who worked for the president. Obviously they can’t do that now.”
He added, “I think there’s a sense of relief that because the election was so close and win or lose, it clearly was not a repudiation of the president, so I think that gives people a lot of comfort.” Despite the comparisons on the left of the jubilant celebrations Saturday in American cities across the country looking like the toppling of a dictator in a foreign land, this person insisted that Trump’s loss was no different than that of previous incumbents who lost.
Most Trump officials viewed the lack of a massive repudiation as a powerful rejoinder to any arguments from Never Trumpers that they should be banned from GOP politics or corporate America.
“The general thinking is that people are actually feeling hopeful about the trajectory of the GOP because it was so close, so even if the president loses, it shows that there are a lot of people like us, or at least who support what we did. So I think people are feeling better about job possibilities,” said a senior administration official.
Some folks in MAGA-world are almost celebratory about what they see as the avoidance of a crushing loss. “At the end of this he’s going to get 69-70 million votes, give or take,” said a Trump adviser. “He’s expanded the Republican voting base, so I think Trumpism is here to stay.
While some of this may sound delusional, it’s not inconceivable that these Trump aides are correct. The left will soon have bigger priorities when it comes to policy and holding the Biden White House accountable. And it’s true that at the height of the Iraq War, many anti-war liberals swore that they would make sure those responsible for that quagmire never worked in politics again.
Not only have most of them thrived, many of them became the left’s best allies in their fight against Trumpism.
While Trump officials with good reputations and bipartisan relationships will likely land well in the private sector, other mid-level Trump aides might have to launder their experience by working on another campaign or two, or finding a job on Capitol Hill.
“The easier path for some of the people might be to go work on a campaign or go work for another official and then you have another line on your resume,” said a Senate GOP aide, adding that his LinkedIn page “has been getting lit up” with Trump aides seeking to chat about potential jobs.
Some Republicans suggested that even for those on the right who might have been receptive to banning certain Trump people from politics, the lists themselves may have the opposite effect — by making former Trump officials more sympathetic.
“The Democrats will face significant backlash for this and as per usual, they’ve gone way too far,” said a former senior administration official. “Making a list of your political enemies and promising that they will get payback and people will go after them because they worked for a different political party is literally fascism.”