- President Donald Trump’s second term is expected to bring tons of turnover in the administration’s upper ranks.
- Insider interviewed more than a half dozen former Trump administration officials, campaign advisers and Republicans close to the administration about how a second-term Trump Cabinet could shape up.
- “I do think you’ll see a large personnel change across the board,” a former senior Trump administration official told Insider in an interview.
- Cabinet officials like Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are expected to leave the administration.
- Some of the Trump loyalists expected to stick around for another four years: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, White House immigration aide Stephen Miller, and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Get ready for some major league turnover in President Donald Trump's ranks if he wins a second term in November.
That's the expectation from a half dozen sources close to the Trump administration who remain close to the president and his inner circle.
Likely officials on the way out include Cabinet leaders like Mark Esper at the Pentagon, Alex Azar at the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is eyeing his own 2024 White House run.
Potential names on the way in: former House Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan; Matt Gaetz, the pugnacious Florida congressman who has been one of Trump's most loyal supporters in Congress; and Cory Gardner, the Colorado GOP senator who is expected to lose his seat in November.
It's not an uncommon phenomenon in a second term administration for so many big names to cycle in and out after a president wins reelection. But the overhaul would be nonetheless notable for Trump, who has had anything but a stable team of officials around him during the last three-plus years.
"I do think you'll see a large personnel change across the board," a former senior Trump official who's still close to the administration told Insider in an interview.
All of the turnover in Trump's upper ranks makes sense too, considering the Cabinet officials and senior White House staffers who might leave to seek fortunes on K Street, pen their tell-all memoirs, run for office, or head back to their home states.
White House officials-in-waiting
Insider interviewed more than a half dozen former Trump administration officials, Trump campaign advisers and Republicans close to the administration about how a second-term Trump Cabinet could shape up.
The list of Cabinet officials expected to head for the exits if Trump wins includes Esper — who has served since July 2019 as the secretary of Defense — Azar, who has helped manage the US response to the coronavirus pandemic at HHS, and 82-year-old Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the former officials said.
Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman and ex-CIA director, is widely seen as one of the two dozen Republicans preparing for a presidential run of his own come 2024 — no matter what happens to Trump this November. The sources Insider spoke with said Pompeo could clock out soon after the inauguration.
The Trump officials-in-waiting might include big GOP donors, some of his most vocal cheerleaders in Congress, and perhaps even Republican senators who lose their seats this fall.
One former administration official floated Gaetz as a possibility for a top administration gig, given his loyalty and outspoken advocacy on behalf of the president. That person also suggested that Gardner might get a Cabinet post if he loses his seat in November.
Don't expect a complete overhaul, though.
Some of the Trump loyalists expected to stick around for a second term: Attorney General William Barr, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, White House immigration aide Stephen Miller, and Trump's daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
There could also be some shuffling within Trump's Cabinet. If Esper leaves, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is seen as a possible candidate to move over to the job as the nation's top civilian leader for the military. And if Pompeo leaves, Mnuchin or O'Brien have an inside track on making the switch to lead State.
Chaos in Trump's orbit
Trump's personnel struggles have made stunning headlines almost from the minute he descended his golden escalator during his presidential campaign announcement in Trump Tower in June 2015.
His longtime political adviser and confidant, Roger Stone, departed the campaign a few months after it launched. Trump's family forced his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, out shortly after he locked up the Republican nomination in June 2016. And Trump ousted his second campaign chief, Paul Manafort, that August.
In the White House, Trump tore through three chiefs of staff, four White House press secretaries, and four national security advisers (among other top staff) in rapid succession.
Trump's famous paranoia, compared at times to Richard Nixon's, has helped fuel his latest purge of government workers he believes are disloyal to him. (And that paranoia is not entirely unfounded. Trump's third national security adviser, John Bolton, penned a searing insider's account of the Trump White House and concluded that Trump was "not fit" for the presidency.)
Amid the otherwise consuming tasks of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, contending with racial justice protests, trying to salvage the economy and running for reelection, Trump still found time to task one of his closest advisers with conducting a purge of staff.
Trump aide John McEntee has battled through the summer with Trump's Cabinet members over staffing decisions, as reported by Axios.
That battle appeared to reach a boiling point this month when Bloomberg News spotted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson with plans visible in his pocket to address McEntee's purge with Trump.
Big policy plans and a new Supreme Court
For the moment, Trump and his team are almost singularly focused on winning in November — unable to look much further down the road amid the perpetual chaos of 2020 and Trump's own presidency.
But a Trump win in November could give his team a clear mandate to more aggressively pursue the policies that have been in the works for the past four years, like rolling back federal regulations, curbing immigration, and replacing the Obama administration's signature healthcare law.
And a Supreme Court bolstered by Trump's third nominee to the court (or more) would likely hand him more victories (and remove one of the critical checks on his power through his first term).
White House official Chris Liddell — a veteran of presidential nominee Mitt Romney's 2012 transition team — is now leading Trump's transition effort, which is simultaneously preparing for a second Trump term and the possibility of a handover to Democrat Joe Biden next January.
Most of the Cabinet members' offices contacted by Insider declined to comment on how long they plan to stick around if there's a second Trump term. But some have announced their intentions publicly. For example, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Insider earlier this summer that he plans to stay on the job for two or three more years. Mnuchin has also said he'd stick around for four more years if Trump wanted him to stay.
The White House declined to comment about its second-term personnel plans for this story.
The White House Office of Presidential Personnel has been interviewing political staff at federal agencies — everyone from chiefs of staff on down — about their career plans, according to a current administration official.
Morale among Trump officials has improved in recent weeks, that person said, and aides are increasingly expecting a Trump win in November. "Confidence level is a lot higher now than it was two months ago."
Sources close to the administration expect some house cleaning at the start of a new term.
Esper rankled the White House earlier this year when he appeared to break with the president over the use of active duty troops to quell racial justice protests, CNN reported. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany wouldn't say directly in June whether Trump still had confidence in Esper. She said, "as of right now Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper."
Azar, the country's top health official, may also leave the administration. Trump was considering replacing him early this spring due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, several news outlets reported at the time. Trump dismissed those reports. GOP insiders say they expect that whether Azar keeps his job depends on the state of the pandemic after the election.
One big question is whether Pompeo stays at the State Department. His name was floated as a potential leader at the Pentagon if Esper departs. But Pompeo, who turned down overtures to run for the Senate back in his home state of Kansas, is also widely viewed as a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender who might want to leave the administration to lay groundwork for that campaign.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be 83 next January, and sources predict he may opt for retirement. Linda McMahon, who led the Small Business Administration under Trump, is seen as a possible second-term Commerce secretary. She left the SBA in March to chair the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a 73-year-old former Georgia governor, is seen as another Cabinet official who might opt for retirement rather than stay for a second term.
Some Cabinet secretaries and White House aides are expected to hold on as long as they can. Those include some of the aides closest to the president and policy experts driving Trump's anti-regulatory agenda inside federal agencies.
"Most of these guys, I think, would at least try to use this first year in a second term, which would obviously be seen as a mandate to push to get a lot of stuff done before they took off," said a former administration official.
DeVos is seen as a likely two-term education secretary, and insiders predict she'll want to stick around and continue to advance school choice policies that direct funds from traditional public schools to alternatives including private and charter programs.
White House senior adviser Miller, the architect of Trump's immigration policies, as well as Kushner and Ivanka Trump, are widely expected to remain among the president's closest advisers.
The low-key policy wonks leading agencies — like Wheeler at EPA, David Bernhardt at the Interior Department and Dan Brouillete at the Energy Department — are also expected to stay for a few more years or the full second term. Wheeler and Bernhardt both came in to replace scandal-plagued former agency leaders Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke, and are seen as reliable operators to carry out Trump's deregulatory agenda.
Brouillette was just confirmed in December to take over after former Energy Secretary Rick Perry stepped down.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the former labor secretary during the George W. Bush administration — may also serve out eight years in a Trump administration. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was just confirmed in September and is also expected to stay for a few years.
Watching the Senate
Second-term presidents always see Cabinet turnover, and Trump would certainly need to hire some new aides and agency leaders. Some insiders raised questions about how long White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows would want to stick around after holding an already notoriously grueling job through a reelection campaign and a pandemic.
Only one member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — made it through the entire eight years of Obama's presidency. Chao was the only member of George W. Bush's administration to hold her post for all eight years.
Trump's second-term hires will also depend in large part on the makeup of the Senate in 2021. If Trump keeps the White House, but Democrats win the Senate, that could force him to pick more moderate officials to get them confirmed. A GOP-led Senate would likely pave the way for a more conservative Cabinet.
Influential GOP donors could be among those named to top administration jobs, Republican insiders say. Former GOP governors, vocal Trump allies in the US House, or Republican senators who had Trump's back in 2020 but lost their seats might also be in the running.
"I could see people like Matt Gaetz — current members who are close to the president — I could see them maybe trying to make a move," said one former senior administration official.
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