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The Right Resistance: Loyalty is in the eye of the beholder, at least with Donald Trump

Is loyalty easily demanded, or is it earned?

Such is the debate these days, as it was revealed last week that former President Donald Trump’s campaign announced it would henceforth not hire anyone who worked for Governor Ron DeSantis – either for Trump campaign jobs (if/when he secures the Republican nomination), or, much more importantly, for positions in the Trump 2.0 administration once the Democrat nominee (probably senile president Joe Biden) is dispatched to the dustbin of history.

We haven’t even reached April Fool’s Day and yet some folks seem like they’re already playing tricks on unsuspecting folks. Or are they? In a report titled “Trump Campaign: DeSantis Staff Need Not Apply”, Philip Wegmann wrote at Real Clear Politics last week:

“Loyalty tests are nothing new for Trump. Numerous Republicans were disqualified for positions in his administration if it was discovered they had publicly criticized him during the 2016 campaign. Exceptions were possible, but only after apologies were tendered. His demands for fidelity reportedly caused headaches during the presidential transition.

“As conservatives find themselves pulled between the old champion and a new challenger, some caution that blacklists are inherently counterproductive. ‘If Trump wins, he’ll need to hire the very best people he can,’ said Mick Mulvaney, who … previously endorsed Sen. Rand Paul… ‘Whoever is advising him to exclude folks who support other Republicans in a primary don’t have a clue as to how to run a government.’

“Republicans will need to unite around whoever wins the nomination, a prominent conservative grassroots organizer added, warning that division this early makes unity later more difficult.”

Yes, it would certainly seem so. By laying down the loyalty law this early, Trump sends a clear signal that he means business this time and isn’t about to let the personnel issues that plagued his previous administration reoccur. Who can forget, that at the end, even some of his cabinet officers were dropping like flies after January 6, 2021. His former Attorney General, William Barr, was relentlessly savaging him in public. You really can’t blame Trump for looking over his shoulder now. As one of his aides said in Wegmann’s piece, “It’s a time for choosing”.

But this issue isn’t as cut and dried as it would appear. Lots of conservatives who were ardent Trump supporters are now considering DeSantis – or one of the others – simply because they feel it’s time for younger, fresher leadership at the top. It’s not that they don’t like Trump – or wouldn’t be loyal to him if he’s the 2024 guy – they’re just thinking a change is necessary.

Besides, Washington is a mean place. How stupid does it get in the swamp with this “loyalty” business? I’ve experienced it first-hand. In 1995 (late spring) I moved to the Washington DC area hoping to find work on Capitol Hill – or at least hook on to one of the Republican presidential campaigns. A year or so removed from law school and having passed the California BAR exam, I wasn’t successful in finding a permanent position in the Golden State. Imagine that – too many lawyers?

The Republicans had just experienced the Gingrich “revolution” the previous November, so I surmised I would have better luck finding work in the nation’s capital with the influx of new leadership. They’d need a bright 20-something from out west, wouldn’t they? Because I just needed a job and wasn’t intending to be picky, I sent resumes to pretty much every Republican entity I could think of, as well as hounded what few contacts I had to try and get my foot in the proverbial door somewhere.

In my spare time – which I had a lot of – I decided to volunteer at Senator Phil Gramm’s presidential campaign, once again figuring that after a while I would be offered a full-time position. I chose Gramm over Bob Dole because I’d liked the Texas senator’s 1992 keynote speech at the Republican National Convention. Even back then, I wasn’t wild about the Republican blueblood old guard, which Dole was very much a part of.

As I recall, I only toiled a half-dozen or so times at Gramm’s headquarters and had left long before the fall campaign and his subsequent exit from the race. The youngsters (younger than me at least) who handled the volunteers hadn’t seen me as anything more than an envelope licker and fundraising calling list phone banker (which was awful even before the onset of Caller ID), so I figured I wouldn’t have permanently branded myself by spending a few hours there.

The next summer, after Bob Dole won the nomination, I set out to work for the Republican nominee’s campaign. A friend of my dad’s actually had some political chums at the Dole campaign, so she sent my resume over and they called me for an interview. Upon arriving for the talk, the first thing the guy asked me was, “So, I see you worked for the Gramm campaign? What are you doing over here?”

I later heard from Dad’s friend that the guy had called her after speaking with me and chewed her out for sending over a job-seeker who’d “worked” for Gramm. Oh, the insult! I put the Gramm thing on my resume because I calculated it might open some opportunities and label me as a “loyal” Republican, not get me branded as a Benedict Arnold by the establishment! This distrust runs deep among the political class.

Why not spray paint it on a billboard – “Welcome to DC, be careful who you volunteer for.”

Soon after, I found contract work at a grassroots lobbying firm calling to generate letters and activism for clients on issues most Americans never heard anything about. I think it’s called “Astroturf” lobbying these days. The place was populated with other young folks who’d come to Washington to “make a difference” and ended up in a tiny cubicle with a computer database and a phone. Fun, fun, fun!

The lesson being that Trump’s campaign, by letting it be known that anyone who is tied to DeSantis is hereafter blackballed, is playing a very dangerous game with a whole collection of people (DeSantis supporters) who will, down the road, if Trump does indeed win the nomination again, be very useful to the Republican cause.

This subject, like with so many others in Trump’s orbit, should be viewed with a very large grain of salt. Wegmann’s article also contained quotes from former Trump administration officials who testified that the campaign and then the White House didn’t carry a grudge against folks who worked for other candidates during the 2016 primary race.

Who can forget how Trump even interviewed idiot RINO Mitt Romney for the Secretary of State’s position in his upcoming administration? The world will never know whether Trump was seriously considering hiring the 2012 loser (after all the man had said about Trump), but the fact the president-elect was giving Mitt an audience meant something, right? The same goes for Trump consulting former arch-foe Ted Cruz to talk about serving as Trump’s Attorney General for the new government.

Trump didn’t end up tapping either flip-flopper Romney or the extremely qualified Cruz for either cabinet position, but by bringing them into Trump Tower (the site of Trump’s transition team), the lifelong real estate developer and reality TV star sent a signal to many, many Republicans that they could still apply for jobs with him.

Heck, former rival Ben Carson was given a shot at interviewing, as were numerous (too many to count) establishmentarians who weren’t the least bit loyal to Trump and demonstrated their duplicity by undermining his daily operations and message. Some of them became leakers to the establishment media, which forced boatloads of hours of unfortunate damage control on behalf of the Trump White House.

Others, like former RNC Chair Reince Priebus (as co-Chief of Staff), proved to be too cautious to deal with the implementation of the MAGA agenda.

Trump also initially kept much of Obama’s deep state team in place, and we know how that played out. It’s hindsight now, but former FBI Director James Comey was working against Trump from the beginning. The new president should’ve fired all of those clowns on his first day in the Oval Office. If that were the case, he wouldn’t have been dragged through the Russia, Russia, Russia investigation and wouldn’t have faced impeachment over an innocuous phone call.

In other words, for a man who was burned as badly as Trump was by government apparatchiks who weren’t loyal to him, who can fault the politician for being super guarded now?

Does Trump mean it this time, or will his current icy and intolerant (for DeSantis’s people) heart eventually melt like it’s done in the past and he’ll welcome his former intra-party enemies with open arms? At some point, Trump will need to reach out to his detractors, or his mission to Make America Great Again will surely fail from lack of backup when it’s needed the most.

In essence, loyalty isn’t easily demanded, and it’s not always earned. But when it comes to Donald Trump, only he will decide who’s awarded a second – or first -- chance.

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