Former Trump officials find tough job market
Corporate America is showing no signs of rushing to snatch up the vast majority of high-level Trump officials.
Prominent figures from the Trump era were already facing tough job prospects at the end of 2020, but top U.S. companies have further distanced themselves from Republicans following the deadly mob attack on the Capitol earlier this month.
Several ex-officials have secured employment at right-leaning think tanks and conservative organizations instead of landing plum jobs as corporate executives or board members, while others such as former White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow are returning to their previous line of work on cable news.
Experts say the range of employment opportunities for former Trump aides is increasingly limited, with many companies mindful of the potential for consumer, employee or shareholder backlash if they extend a job offer to a divisive figure.
“I do think a lot of these people are going to have to go to friends and family because that’s where they’re going to get hired. Not everyone, but I think the more political you are, that might be your only option at the moment,” said Ivan Adler, president of Ivan Adler Associates, a lobbyist recruitment firm.
The job prospects for Trump officials are decidedly different than they were for Obama aides in January 2017, when the 44th president left office with an approval rating near 60 percent. Former President Trump’s approval rating was about half that on Jan. 20, marking the lowest point of his presidency.
Several top Trump officials have landed jobs, though not at the kinds of high-profile places where many Obama alumni ended up.
“I think Fortune 500 companies are going to be extra careful about bringing on board folks from the recent administration,” one recruiter said. “Especially now that everyone has sort of hit pause on corporate giving, I think everyone is super sensitive not to seem like they’re signaling something that they don’t intend to by hiring someone who’s recently exited.”
Companies such as Amazon and Comcast announced a halt to political donations immediately after the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol, with many implementing a freeze on contributions to the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the Electoral College results.
“It’s made it much worse,” a former George W. Bush aide said, referring to the insurrection at the Capitol.
“I think it was going to be harder preelection, it was going to be harder after the election denial circus and again nearly impossible after Jan. 6 for a Trump official to be hired by corporate America,” the former aide added. “Corporate America is going to have a very tough bar for Trump appointees to jump over.”
Mark Meadows, who served as Trump’s chief of staff, will be working at the Conservative Partnership Institute, led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R).
Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and was the first Cabinet member to resign in protest after the Capitol riot, is returning to the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank where she worked before the Trump administration.
She’ll be joined there by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in the mix of potential 2024 presidential candidates.
“I’ve spoken to probably 70 people in this administration, and they understand it’s going to be a challenge. Lobbying or law firms are mostly likely to take people, not corporate America,” one recruiter told The Hill.
Former Obama aides, however, were largely embraced by major U.S. corporations.
Former White House press secretary Josh Earnest is now senior vice president and chief communications officer at United Airlines after a stint at NBC and MSNBC as a political analyst, while his predecessor at the podium, Jay Carney, landed a senior vice president job at Amazon less than a year after leaving the Obama administration.
For Trump’s former communications staff, the media sphere shows the most promise.
Kudlow, a former CNBC host, is moving to Fox Business, and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has been in talks with Fox News.
“These are household names or they have become household names. They will attract viewers and an audience. It makes sense they were able to land something in the media platform space. I think it will be much more challenging for those who don’t have that name recognition,” said Julian Ha, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm.
Some of the high-profile millionaires or billionaires from Trump’s Cabinet — former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — have not announced their next steps.
One former Trump official argued that hiring opportunities will depend on the person.
“Smart companies that don’t make decisions based on short-term political pressure will invest in level-headed, serious individuals from the administration — and there are plenty of them throughout the executive branch,” the former official said.
“The vast majority of staffers from the Trump administration never met the president, focused on policy and are repulsed by what happened on Jan. 6. It would be a shame if companies blacklist these individuals for no logical reason other than their anxiety over a bad headline.”
But even jobs at lobbying shops and trade associations — traditional landing spots for former administration officials — are freezing up in the wake of the mob attack.
“It’s a perfect storm, really: nearly universal business revulsion at the events of Jan. 6, and the new all-Democratic landscape means it’s even harder for these folks to move to K Street,” another former Trump administration official said.
The tough market isn’t likely to get better anytime soon, according to one former Bush aide.
“I think a year from now, you will be able to count on one hand the number of Trump people who were hired to either run trade associations or maybe corporate offices. And those that are will not be thought of primarily as Trump people. Their Trump service will be a part of their resume but not the only thing,” the former aide said.
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