Former President Donald Trump plans to build a Cabinet and select White House staff based on two criteria: pre-vetted loyalty to him and a commitment to pushing legal and governance boundaries, sources who talk often with the GOP nomination frontrunner told Axios.
The sources added that should he win in 2024, Trump would seek out loyalists who share his enthusiasm for punishing critics, disregarding opponents and making controversial legal and military moves, filling the most powerful government roles with men like ex-Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and former Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel.
While Trump hasn’t settled on specific roles for specific people and hates when staff and members of his circle speculate otherwise, he’s also not one to carry out detailed personal planning and many decisions depend on who he’s last talked to, according to Axios.
But in conversations with friends and advisors, he’s been clear about the type of men — most of whom are mostly older, white men — he’d want to serve in his administration. Last month, the outlet also reported that allies of the former president launched a multimillion-dollar effort to pre-screen loyalists for up to 50,000 lower-level government jobs in a potential Trump administration. His prospective cabinet members would serve as those employees’ bosses.
The former president and his prospective top officials have been vocal about their aims of targeting and jailing critics, including government officials and journalists, deporting or detaining undocumented immigrants, and using the military to target drug cartels in Mexico or potentially crackdown on criminals and protesters in the United States. The group also wants to cut rules that curtail their ability to do away with government workers they deem disloyal.
“It’s unclear who would land where, but make no mistake: These are specific prototypes of Trump Republicans who would run his government. This is very different from the early days of his first term, when he was restrained by more conventional officials, from John Kelly to James Mattis to Gary Cohn,” Axios reports. “This time, it’d be all loyalists, no restraints.”
According to the outlet, Trump openly talks with friends about several possibilities for his running mate, establishing a belief that the 2020 election was stolen and that former Vice President Mike Pence showed cowardice by allowing for the election’s certification.
Those up for consideration are Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and a MAGA-base favorite; Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Kari Lake, a leading election denier and current candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona; and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Rep. Byron Donald, R-Fla, one of the few Black Republicans in Congress, has traveled with Trump and would love to be vice president, while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who lost her committee assignments over pushing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, is also mentioned.
Former first lady Melania Trump has also advocated for ex-Fox News star Tucker Carlson to assume the role, sources close to Trump told Axios. However, Carlson as a VP pick has been discounted by others close to the former president because they believe he won’t pick someone who could outshine him and Trump’s staff thinks Carlson can’t be controlled.
Miller, the architect of Trump’s most controversial immigration plans — including family separation — could become the next attorney general and, if not that, receive a Cabinet-level role to greatly influence immigration policy. Miller has been leading efforts to recruit a litany of right-wing lawyers to staff a MAGA-dominated executive branch.
Carlson told Axios that Miller would be his first choice to head the Department of Justice. “He’s a serious person and he understands how the system works,” Carlson said.
Donald Trump Jr. has pitched Mike Davis, the former chief counsel for nominations to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to be Trump’s interim attorney general. In his public appeals for the gig, Davis has promised a “three-week reign of terror” during which he would “put kids in cages” and jail prosecutors and journalists who have gone after Trump. He even told former MSNBC anchor Mehdi Hasan that he “has his spot picked out in the D.C. gulag.”
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon could become the next White House chief of staff, an idea Carlson and a few others are pushing to Trump. Bannon — who is appealing a contempt of Congress conviction — boasts authoritarian beliefs and reads most things as an existential war between good (Trump) and evil (Democrats, establishment Republicans and the media).
Patel, who threatened to “come after” critics in the media during a recent appearance on Bannon’s podcast, would be considered for a top national security job in Trump’s possible next administration, potentially even as the head of the CIA or NSC.
“One thing we learned in the Trump administration the first go-round is we’ve got to put in all of our compatriots from top to bottom,” Patel told Bannon this week on the “War Room” podcast. “And we’ve got them for law enforcement … [Defense Department], CIA, everywhere. … Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens.”
Kash Patel says as Trump’s next CIA Director he will lead “patriots” appointed by Trump in an all-out effort to prosecute and jail people in government and the media: “We will find the conspirators in govt and the media. Yes, we are going to come after the people in the media.” pic.twitter.com/NuLyqOIKWO
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) December 5, 2023
Johnny McEntee, the director of the Presidential Personnel Office during Trump’s first term, may return to the role with greater power, Axios reports. He may also be Trump’s gatekeeper as head of Oval Office operations, or act as the Cabinet secretary. The 33-year-old former UConn quarterback was empowered by the end of Trump’s term to systematically purge officials deemed disloyal and make significant staffing changes without consent from agency heads.
A former colleague described McEntee to Axios as “Trump’s utility player — a guaranteed loyal ally, wherever you place him, who’d make sure the Trump agenda was being implemented.”
Jeffrey Clark, a former assistant attorney general for Trump and one of his co-defendants in Fulton County, Georgia, could get a top Justice Department slot, while Ric Grenell, an ex-ambassador to Germany and Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, would be in the running for Trump’s secretary of state.
Among some members of Trump’s camp, Susie Wiles, the longtime Florida political operative heading Trump’s campaign, is believed to be in the running for chief of staff. John Ratcliffe, a former Texas congressman who served as Trump’s final DNI, would be considered to lead the CIA, for a return to DNI, for defense secretary or even vice president, and Jamie Dimon, a Democrat and the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, to head Treasury.
“He wants a big name,” a source close to the campaign told Axios, explaining Trump’s potential interest in Dimon. “And he loves billionaires.”
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Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Lee Zeldin, a veteran and former congressman from Long Island, would be considered to head the Pentagon, while Jared Kushner, who has mostly kept his distance from the campaign so far, may return to the White House with a continued interested in Middle East policy, Axios notes.
The heads of Cabinet departments don’t have complete powers unless they’re confirmed by the Senate, and many of Trump’s prospective secretaries would have difficulty winning confirmation.
“But Trump made unprecedented use of ‘acting’ Cabinet members, who have temporary power over agencies even without Senate approval,” Axios notes. “And we’re told he’d be prepared to push the envelope on ambiguities about how many stints an ‘acting’ could serve.”
“This is insane,” Brian Klaas, a professor in global politics at University College London who studies democracy and extremism, wrote on X/Twitter in response to the report.
“As I write in #Strongmen, insecure and grandiose authoritarian leaders require certain kinds of people around them: fanatic loyalists, bureaucrats who scale up repression (Arendt called them ‘desk killers’), skilled liars,” wrote Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor who researches fascism and authoritarianism. “This list has them all.”
As I write in #Strongmen, insecure and grandiose authoritarian leaders require certain kinds of people around them: fanatic loyalists, bureaucrats who scale up repression (Arendt called them “desk killers”), skilled liars. This list has them all. https://t.co/A86OAsk32U
— Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) December 7, 2023
“It’s a long way from Lincoln’s cabinet of rivals to Trump’s cabinet of losers,” quipped former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.