Trump’s move in early 2020 to bring back [John] McEntee, the then 29-year-old former presidential body man abruptly fired in 2018 by then-chief of staff John Kelly, would become one of his more consequential decisions. McEntee had been one of his favorite aides and Trump had long regretted allowing Kelly, whom he had grown to despise, to have his way.
After Trump’s Senate acquittal, he gave McEntee an astonishing promotion to run the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. McEntee had no experience running any kind of personnel operation, much less such a significant post in the U.S. government. But Trump did not care.
He gave McEntee his blessing to start ridding the federal government of his enemies and replacing them with Trump people. McEntee was to ignore the “RINOs” who would try to dissuade him. He was to press ahead with urgency and ruthlessness.
At the president’s direction, McEntee weeded out administration officials deemed to be disloyal or obstructionist. With Trump’s unequivocal backing, he became more powerful than any personnel director in recent history. Trump had decided to ignore his more traditional advisers and to take an aggressive stance against anyone in his way — an approach he would surely replicate in any second term.
McEntee had the authority to overrule Trump’s own Cabinet secretaries. He was able to hire and fire in many cases without their sign-off — and in at least one instance, without even the Cabinet secretary’s prior knowledge.
In their place, McEntee and his colleagues in the personnel office recruited die-hard Trump supporters from outside Washington to serve in important government positions. Some had barely graduated from college and had few, if any, of the credentials usually expected for such positions.
They tested job seekers’ commitment to Trump in informal conversations and they formalized this emphasis in a “research questionnaire” for government officials. One question on the form asked: “What part of Candidate Trump’s campaign message most appealed to you and why?” Answers to such questions were prioritized over professional qualifications and experience.
McEntee brought a different mentality to the personnel office. He brought in “America First” conservatives who thought of themselves as having been “red-pilled” about the evils of the Left.
This was a reference to the 1999 dystopian sci-fi film “The Matrix,” where the main character was offered a choice between two colored pills — a red one to learn the dangerous truth of the world or a blue one to remain in ignorance.
McEntee’s new recruits to the personnel office were ardently loyal to Trump and committed to his nationalist ideology — with especially hardline views on trade, immigration and foreign policy.
They believed, by and large, that the American republic needed saving from a range of domestic enemies and an embedded “deep state” sabotaging Trump from within. [Continue reading…]