New Trump Catchprase: “You’re Hired!”

Trump hires for new administration

Peter Van Buren

You may have seen the stories last week — President-elect Donald Trump was shocked to learn he needs to hire over 4,000 political appointees by January 20, or that people in Washington may refuse to work in a Trump administration, or that Trump, as a newcomer to politics, may not know enough people to get down to the business of hiring. I doubt any of those statements are true, and the task is easier than you think.

Trump was well aware if he won he would need to do some hiring, and if he was not keeping lists of potential candidates, you can be sure others around him were. Far from some kind of chore, political organizations stretching back to Tammany Hall if not ancient Rome live for this task — handing out jobs is one of the prizes the election winner takes home. And as a businessperson, Trump himself is no stranger to the concept of hiring. The standing bureaucracy Washington oversees these transitions every four to eight years, as do the national party offices. Trump, though he is new to government, is not beginning from a cold start.

But when it gets down to the actual work of filling positions, exactly how will Trump do it? I worked in a non-politically appointed position for the State Department for 24 years worth of transitions. Trump will fill positions pretty much the same way as every other modern president before him has.

Trump starts with the big jobs, such as transition head Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former chair of the Republican National Committee. Soon after that will come the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and an Attorney General.

Those appointees will then fill in below them, the deputy and assistant secretaries, U.S. attorneys and advisors who do most of the work of government. Rudy Giuliani, for example, who has been in politics for some time, will have plenty of people he will want to work for him. Given the number of employees he knows and trusts from his business empire, Trump himself may seed in some mid-level individuals, particularly in agencies like Treasury and Commerce. These positions, give or take, amount to about one-fourth of the jobs that need to be staffed quickly. And of those, maybe fewer than 100 are critical for Day One.

One important point: the first few layers of political appointees require Senate confirmation. A good strategy to both ease that process and to locate experienced people quickly is to turn to Senators and Congresspeople for recommendations. They are more than happy to help friends and allies into positions in the White House and, for Congresspeople who have lost their seats, find jobs for their soon-to-be-unemployed staffers.

With those Senate confirmation jobs lined up, Trump’s transition team will move to the other positions. These jobs include any number of economic, national security, and other advisers. Many of those will be drawn from the campaign staff, people already advising Trump, or selected out of think tanks, lobbying groups, and academics. The nice thing about those pools of talent is that they are already ideologically vetted based on their association and/or past work. Had Hillary Clinton won, it is likely she would have also drawn staff from the Clinton Foundation.

And don’t believe what you might read about people in Washington, including those who criticized Trump during the campaign, refusing to work in his White House. Oh, there will be a few, whose stories will get media attention. But the currency of Washington is power, and members of official Washington will kneel on broken glass before any would turn down a job in the West Wing. Trump (or Clinton, or…) will never lack for candidates. Don’t be surprised if even a few of those high-profile Republican national security officials who signed letters in March and August spring saying they’ll never work for Trump change their minds, “for the good of the country.”

The largest category of jobs left to fill include people who do scheduling, subject matter experts, special counsels, and staff assistants. Many will trickle down as associates from the layer of appointees above them, or be pulled from the cadre of campaign volunteers and interns — why do you think someone spent two months sleeping in cheap motels? Just so they could knock on voters’ doors an Iowa winter?

The last way Trump will staff up his administration is via application. In fact, you can go right now to President-elect Trump’s “Serve America” web site and complete an online application. Many people will also be submitting applications through their local Republican party office, their Congressional representatives, or just about anyone who knows someone who knows someone. And yes, it is a long shot.

One more thing: while it is not common, Trump’s team can ask some current staffers to stick around, especially those in technical positions that are less ideological. And not every job has to be filled by Inauguration Day; there are layers of career civil servants who can fill in as needed, same as when the boss goes on vacation. The president can also appoint a temporary acting head of an agency while awaiting a confirmation hearing. In fact, many administrators don’t complete their first cycle of appointments for months.

This post originally appeared on Peter’s We Meant Well blog.

4 thoughts on “New Trump Catchprase: “You’re Hired!”

  1. Of course, the issue with Trump appointees is quality, not quantity or promptness of getting positions filled. Though Trump stood outside the circle of Christo-Nazis during the campaign (which didn’t prevent his Electoral College victory), he seems focused now on appointing only those who have fully imbibed the Kool-Aid of Kraziness that exemplifies the Modern Republican Party. (Deny global warming, bulldoze what remains of “the wall of separation between Church and State,” cozy up to extreme racist elements while trying to paint them as relatively “moderate,” etc.) I certainly agree with Mr. Van Buren’s take on Washington careerists. We’ll likely be able to count on the fingers of one hand the number of fairly high-level bureaucrats to resign or decline an appointment based on Trump’s program. To close, I am compelled by Trump’s vow (now being mocked by his own team-building) to “drain the swamp” to point out something I mentioned here many months ago: according to historian Joseph Ellis, the nation’s capital was, in fact, built on a swamp, and largely by slave labor. Quite a few of the workers died from Yellow Fever and similar insect-borne diseases. Going forward, I think cesspool will be the better term for that city. Or perhaps Sodom-by-the-Potomac?

  2. So far Kobach and Pompeo have been selected from the Kansas plains to take up residence in the cesspool/swamp. Both are slimy enough to thrive there. Given recent budget projections, any state official not named Brownback probably also submitted a resume already. Get out while there is still just enough to pay the brain trust which devised and implemented the perhaps fatal tax reduction scheme, if not to sustain a state employee workforce or citizen services for a workforce to administer.

    Not saying Sam hasn’t applied for a job himself, mind you — pulling a Palin is probably looking like a mighty attractive option right now. God how I hate this place, but it’s where I and my senior citizen siblings will probably all eventually croak.

    Look out, Americans. The Kansas economic plan 2010 to present is little different from Paul Ryan Koch GOP budget submittals of the past six years.

    • For whatever reason(s), the Great State of Kansas has hatched some of our most extreme DoDo Birds in the political realm in recent decades, hell-bent on outlawing abortion, putting prayer in public schools, etc. Perhaps the explanation lies in this line from a Don McLean song (“Magdalene Lane”), in which the bracketed word here is my substitution for original: “A Kansas tornado can twist up a young [politician’s] head…”

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