Election 2020

If Trump Wins, Washington’s Brain Trust Is Eyeing the Exit Door

At the State Department, Pentagon, and other agencies, some senior officials can’t take four more years.

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for an event at the White House in Washington on July 22. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

National security professionals across U.S. government agencies fear an exodus of senior experts from government if Donald Trump is elected to a second term, according to a dozen current and former officials across multiple agencies, who said that the president’s disdain of government expertise and political attacks on seasoned diplomats could spark a massive brain drain.

During his four years in the White House, Trump has drawn fire for dismissing or undermining senior intelligence and law enforcement officials dealing with Russia, ignoring top government health experts on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, and shutting out career diplomats from decisions on foreign policy.

Already, Trump has vowed to fire more senior government officials if he is reelected, including CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, who has been at the forefront of the U.S. response to the pandemic—and who rendered a scathing judgment of the administration’s failed response in a Washington Post interview last week.

The onslaught of politicized attacks, scattershot approaches to policymaking, and Trump’s norm-shattering methods of governance have worn down many veteran national security professionals, said the current and former officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s not simply a question of policies that may be difficult to support, it’s a deliberate undermining of the way we protect the integrity of government services,” said one former senior State Department official who served under multiple administrations. “I can’t remember another administration in which there was such a wholesale assault on the professionalism of the mid- and senior-levels of bureaucracies in the US government.”

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Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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