Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., despite a series of shocking scandals, was rewarded with a promotion of sorts last month: Donald Trump, apparently impressed with Clarke’s often terrifying record, offered Clarke an appointment as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The position would not require Senate confirmation.
Over the weekend, however, Clarke announced he’d changed his mind. Despite having already accepted the job – his first day was scheduled for next week – Clarke “rescinded his acceptance” of the DHS offer.
It creates yet another administration vacancy the White House will have to fill, and as the Washington Post reported over the weekend, there are an awful lot of them.
The array of legal and political threats hanging over the Trump presidency has compounded the White House’s struggles to fill out the top ranks of the government.
Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last month and the escalating probe into Russian interference in the presidential election have made hiring even more difficult, say former federal officials, party activists, lobbyists and candidates who Trump officials have tried to recruit.
Republicans say they are turning down job offers to work for a chief executive whose volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking head-hunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage, according to 27 people The Washington Post interviewed to assess what is becoming a debilitating factor in recruiting political appointees.
To put the challenge in context, consider some specific numbers. By mid-June in the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama had 151 top political appointees in place. Eight years earlier, George W. Bush had 130 in place. Trump has 43.
As one might expect, the White House denies the existence of a problem, but numbers like these are hard to argue with.
And while there’s almost certainly more than one explanation for Trump’s personnel troubles, it doesn’t help that the White House is in the midst of a crisis, created in part by the president’s own ignorance, impulsiveness, volatility, and alleged corruption. Some prospective administration employees told the Post they’re worried about having to hire attorneys if they joined Team Trump.
Most sensible folks looking for career opportunities don’t run towards a sinking ship; they run away from it.
The Post’s report added, “Potential candidates are watching Trump’s behavior and monitoring his treatment of senior officials.” Bill Valdez, a former senior Energy Department official who is now president of the Senior Executives Association, which represents 6,000 top federal leaders, told the newspaper, “Trump is becoming radioactive, and it’s accelerating.”
The article quoted one person, who was in line for a senior legal post in the administration, who decided to bow out after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. “I decided, ‘What am I doing this for?’” the unnamed person said.
Let’s also not forget that former White House Communications Director Mike Dubke quit last month after just three months on the job. Soon after, the New York Times reported that the White House reached out to four different people about filling Dubke’s shoes, but all four “declined to be considered.”
Soon after, BuzzFeed ran a piece with some striking quotes that appear newly relevant. For context, note that BuzzFeed spoke with 20 Republican communicators and operatives, “many of whom have worked on Capitol Hill and in presidential campaigns,” and none of whom seemed eager to apply to serve as White House communications director.
“Hell no!” said one Republican – one of the most common type of responses BuzzFeed News got from operatives. “That would be career suicide.” […]
“That’s like asking someone who just witnessed a horrific bungee jumping accident whether they would like to go next,” one Republican source responded in a text message. “It would be only a few months on the job before tapping out the ‘I want to spend more time with family’ email,” another said.
One operative whose spouse works in the Trump administration dissolved into laughter upon being asked if they would want the role.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” the source said between stifled laughter. “Oh, you’re being serious? Oh my god, I’m crying of laughter, why would anyone in their right mind want to be his communications director?”
All of this was before the president was the subject of a criminal investigation – a development the president seemed to confirm, only to be contradicted soon after by his own staff.