Two Years Later, No Amnesty for the GOP’s Never Trump Camp
Many remain critical, others have repented, but all are shut out from the Trump State Department.
The effect of the petitions could be seen clearly in the makeup of Trump’s staff during the chaotic campaign. With the pool of experts available to him having shrunk, he tapped obscure and in some cases unqualified people for senior positions.
Some became ensnared in the investigation into whether Trump and his aides sought help from Russia to win the election. One of them, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to FBI agents about contacts he had with the Russian government in 2016. Another, Carter Page, was wiretapped by federal investigators over his contacts with Russian officials.
Earlier this year, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee even implied that the Never Trump camp was to blame for any missteps by Trump campaign advisors. The Republicans argued in a report that the “national security establishment’s opposition to candidate Trump created opportunities for two less-experienced individuals with pro-Russia views to serve as campaign advisors: George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.”
Trump loyalists, of course, say the president has the right to ban his critics from the administration. But there is a long tradition in Washington of presidents setting aside intraparty political rivalries and overlooking past criticism to recruit the best people for top jobs. President Ronald Reagan chose his opponent in the primaries, George H. W. Bush, to be his vice president, and President Barack Obama chose his rival, Hillary Clinton, to be his secretary of state.
Cohen said he wrote scathing commentaries against the George W. Bush presidency before being recruited to serve in the administration.
“Most administrations know at some point how to be magnanimous,” he said.
Cohen and many of the other critics remain uninterested in working for Trump — in fact, some believe that serving in the administration might tarnish their reputation and harm their future job prospects. “You are hazarding your character” by taking a job in close proximity to the president, Cohen said. “Not just your reputation, but your character.”
But several younger Republican experts who did not want to be named said they regret signing the petitions. Another former senior Pentagon official, Mary Beth Long, publicly said she had a change of heart over signing the letters shortly after Trump’s election win.
To curry favor with the White House, some have taken to the airwaves or op-ed pages to praise Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal, his cruise missile strikes on Syria, and his upcoming nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
Others feel they have been tarred unfairly.
“There were 122 people with a wide range of views on that letter, but now we’re all painted with the same brush,” said Kroenig, the Georgetown University professor.
Two sources close to the administration said several of these erstwhile Never Trumpers have been tentatively contacted by the White House for possible State Department jobs. But others are skeptical that Pompeo will be ready to advocate for them given Trump’s response in similar cases.
In April of this year, Vice President Mike Pence tapped Jon Lerner to be his national security advisor but withdrew his name after Trump expressed outrage over his appointment. Lerner, a Republican pollster who advises United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, organized attack ads against Trump during the 2016 campaign.
“Pompeo and Bolton know this is a problem,” said one Republican foreign-policy expert with close ties to the administration. “They would prefer to have the best people, but whether they’re willing to go to Trump and make the case is another question.”