In the early days of his presidency in 2017, Donald Trump found himself surrounded by new aides, many of whom had previously worked for his political adversaries, including Sen. Ted Cruz. This ignited concerns for Trump about their loyalty, leading to a series of inquisitions in the Oval Office, where he sought affirmations of allegiance from each aide.
Despite his emphasis on loyalty, Trump's tenure was marked by frustration over perceived betrayals from those within his administration. Three years into his term, during a meeting with his third defense secretary, Mark Esper, and other senior advisers, the topic of loyalty was a focal point.
Trump expressed determination to avoid similar disappointments in any future administration. High-profile instances, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowing the appointment of Russia special prosecutor Robert Mueller, Attorney General William Barr refusing to declare the 2020 election invalid, and Vice President Mike Pence declining to reject electors, deepened Trump's sense of betrayal.
As he eyes a potential second term, Trump's commitment to loyalty seems to have intensified. He has frequently addressed this topic in public remarks, including during a rally on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Here, he criticized former allies like Florida Gov.
Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, contrasting them with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who endorsed him. Trump's allies assert that his success in a second term depends on appointing individuals dedicated to his vision, emphasizing the need for resolute commitment to his agenda.
Loyalist 'Shock Troops' Training
Preparations for a second Trump term include the creation of a group of loyal appointees, termed as "shock troops." The Association of Republican Presidential Appointees recently conducted a "presidential appointee boot camp," aimed at preparing future appointees to navigate a potentially hostile bureaucracy and advance Trump's agenda.
However, Trump's campaign team is cautious about external groups influencing the selection of appointees and the agenda for a prospective second term. They emphasize that the official transition effort will be announced later.
Meanwhile, allies are focused on identifying individuals who align with Trump's vision, viewing this as critical to overcoming bureaucratic challenges. The Republican Party, influenced by Trump's demands for loyalty, has seen a shift in its dynamics, with dissent being increasingly stifled.
This trend raises concerns about Trump's leadership style, with critics suggesting that his approach to loyalty borders on authoritarianism. Despite this, Trump's circle acknowledges his willingness to reconcile with those he once viewed as disloyal, indicating a complex relationship with the concept of loyalty.