A Trump White House Job Won't Be Much of a Career Booster
(Bloomberg View) -- Working for an American president is usually seen as a chance to do good. Then later, after leaving the White House, there's the opportunity to do well. That's the sequence that usually makes ex-presidential aides prosper. For denizens of today's toxic White House, it could easily be different.
Presidential alumni have gone on to prestigious posts in elective office, the corporate world, academia, journalism, lobbying and elder statesmanship. Scandals have tainted a few of them, but the pattern has held irrespective of politics or philosophy. A resume with a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address is a valuable chit.
A record as an aide to President Donald Trump, on the other hand, may not be much of a calling card. Even the reputations of those who came in with high standing, like Chief of Staff John Kelly and economic czar Gary Cohn, have suffered.
Many smart Republicans who once dreamed of a White House job are not available these days. Prominent lawyers and firms have rejected working for Trump.
"There will be lots of places that steer clear of anyone associated with Trump," said Dan Shea, a political scientist at Colby College who wrote a book on civility and political discourse. "Unlike anything we've seen, they've created vitriol and ugliness. The Kellyanne Conways will never shake off Trump." Conway, once a Republican pollster, was a Trump campaign adviser and now is a top White House aide — the one who unforgettably rebranded Trumpist fantasies as "alternative facts."
From Day 1, the Trump White House has been marred by the presence of shady characters and marked by a lack of civility, vilification and lies. It's a reputational nightmare.
It's not a matter of partisanship or ideology. Graduates of both Republican and Democratic White Houses have won important elective offices. They include former Vice President Dick Cheney from President Gerald Ford's White House; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to President Barack Obama; and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, budget director under President George W. Bush.
In the business world, David Rubenstein moved on from policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter to become the billionaire founder of the Carlyle Group.
There are college presidents, too, Republicans such as Daniels (Purdue University) and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (Franklin Pierce University), and Democrats like the Obama-era budget official Sylvia Burwell (American University) and Clinton-era policy official Mark Gearan (Hobart and William Smith Colleges).
William Safire went from being a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon to a New York Times columnist. Carter media man Gerald Rafshoon made movies.
The roster of White House staffers turned elder statesmen includes Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser; James Baker, President Ronald Reagan's staff chief; Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser; George Shultz, Nixon's budget director; Madeleine Albright, a national security aide under Carter; and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush.
Everybody on this extensive list commands respect across the partisan divide. Josh Bolten, chief of staff to the younger Bush, now runs the Business Roundtable and works with Democrats as well as Republicans. Obama chief strategist David Axelrod has interviewed conservatives on his compelling podcast ranging from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Among those who have departed from the current White House, the demand has been minimal. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer was unable to land a regular television gig; he's on the speaking circuit, where the shelf life is short.
In contemplating the future, anyone in contact with Trump has to be looking over a shoulder at the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into connections to Russian meddling in the 2016 election — or in contact with a lawyer.
Nixon aides who were even tangentially tied to the Watergate scandal never really recovered, with the notable exception of Kissinger. The smartest course then was taken by a young Donald Rumsfeld, who left the White House for a diplomatic post in Europe at the beginning of 1973, as the scandal started to mushroom. He returned right after Nixon resigned to serve Ford as chief of staff. The lesson: Get out of Dodge if you can.
One indication of the reputational decline of Trump is seen in the collapse of his once robust merchandizing businesses. The Washington Post reported on April 13 that only two companies still sell Trump-branded products, down from 19 listed by Trump in 2015. A Trump cologne, one of his few remaining items, costs $9.99 an ounce, marked down from $42.
This stigma must unnerve those at the White House who are wondering what's next for them.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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