The Moral Dilemma Over Working For Donald Trump
A Twitter message from Donald Trump encouraging people to come to the capital to protest on Jan. 6, 2021, is shown on a screen as the House select committee holds a July 2022 hearing on the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
WASHINGTON ― Unemployment is at a record low, and there are other presidential hopefuls to work for, yet dozens of Republican operatives ― several well-respected stars among them ― have chosen, despite all the available paycheck options, to help the man who tried to crush American democracy return to the White House.
“Defending the indefensible,” said Al Cardenas, former chair of the Republican Party of Florida, from where former President Donald Trump is running his 2024 campaign. “I don’t know what’s in their hearts…. It’s a good payday.”
And while most of those working for Trump’s campaign, his Save America political committee or his supporting super PAC are either new to politics or have grown personally loyal to Trump and his lies about his loss of the 2020 election, a few are highly regarded names in Republican politics.
Chris LaCivita, for instance, worked two stints running the National Republican Senatorial Committee and engineered the infamous “Swift Boat” ads disparaging 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s service in the Vietnam War. Tony Fabrizio was GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole’s pollster in 1996 and has done numerous Republican statewide races since then. And perhaps most puzzling of all is the woman running Trump’s operation: Susie Wiles, considered one of the top Republican consultants in Florida, whose work gave now-Sen. Rick Scott two terms in the governor mansion, and who in the autumn of 2018 rescued the foundering campaign of Ron DeSantis and helped him win a narrow victory, as well.
“These are old hands who should know better,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who has worked for several years to defeat Trump and who says his ability to find staff shines a light on the “amoral universe” her business inhabits.
“I find it gob-smacking,” she said, adding that she does not know how people who, after Jan. 6, 2021, can work for him and still face themselves in the mirror each morning. “If in your judgment you think he should be in charge of the country again, I think your judgment is terrible. And I think it’s immoral.”
LaCivita, Fabrizio and Wiles did not respond to multiple HuffPost queries and requests for comment. Nor did the vast majority of the dozens of Trump campaign employees and vendors contacted by HuffPost.
Campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung defended both Trump and staff who, like himself, work for him. “Everyone on the campaign is committed to President Trump and the movement he has built,” he said, adding, “If you’re referring to Jan. 6, President Trump said ‘peacefully and patriotically’ in his speech, yet media outlets and the Jan. 6 ‘unselect committee’ despicably have cut that part out in their footage.”
While ‘peacefully’ was in Trump’s speech that day, when Congress was certifying the Electoral College count, he also urged his followers to “fight like hell” and warned that they would lose their country if they did not. He further inflamed his mob that afternoon by attacking his own vice president for lacking the “courage” to go along with his coup attempt to remain in power despite losing his election. Four of his own supporters died that day, while 140 police officers were injured and five died in the days and weeks to come.
Trump is now under criminal investigation for his actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, both by the U.S. Department of Justice as well as Fulton County prosecutors in Georgia.
Mac Stipanovich, who with Cardenas helped make Republicans the dominant party in Florida during the 1980s and ’90s, said Trump’s repeated lies about a “stolen” election that incited the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol on his behalf should have been the last straw for anyone considering working for Trump.
“He is a despicable human being. He’s dishonest. He’s a cheat. If he was my boss, I would quit. If he was my employee, I’d fire him. If he was my son-in-law, I’d horse-whip him,” he said. “One, he is a bad man. And two, he is a danger to representative democracy in this country.”
Working For The Insurrectionist In Chief
HuffPost contacted dozens of employees and vendors for his campaign, his Save America “leadership PAC” and his supporting super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., for this story.
Among the only ones to explain their choice to continue working for Trump notwithstanding his actions culminating in the Jan. 6 riot was campaign spokesperson Liz Harrington, to this day an enthusiastic spreader of Trump’s lies about election fraud.
“The 2020 election was stolen, and only more evidence has come out proving that to be true,” said Harrington, who over the last two years made $126,431 from Save America and, since Trump’s announcement in November that he would run in 2024, $16,875 from his campaign, according to a HuffPost analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Both totals reflect payments made through the end of 2022.
Whether claiming to believe Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election is a condition of employment is unclear, although the campaign roster is stocked with a number of longtime Trump staffers who have repeated at least some of them.
Margo Martin, for instance, was a press aide in the Trump White House who immediately went to work for him at his Palm Beach country club after he left office. She has been paid $159,773 from Save America and $17,110 by the campaign.
Dan Scavino, whose service to Trump began as a caddy decades ago, was and remains the primary aide to help him push out his election lies. He has been paid $160,651 by Save America and $23,125 by the campaign.
Natalie Harp and Christina Bobb, meanwhile, began spreading Trump’s election conspiracy theories as reporters for One America News. They are now both on Trump’s campaign staff. Harp has been paid $69,955 by Save America and $13,125 by the campaign, while Bobb has made $95,561 from Save America and $25,000 from the campaign.
He is a despicable human being. He’s dishonest. He’s a cheat. If he was my boss, I would quit. If he was my employee, I’d fire him. If he was my son-in-law, I’d horse-whip him. One, he is a bad man. And two, he is a danger to representative democracy in this country.”Mac Stipanovich, Republican political strategist
Also on staff are Stephen Miller, a former top aide to Trump in the White House who on the day the Electoral College met on Dec. 14 boasted in a television interview that Trump’s campaign was working to produce “alternate” slates of electors for use on Jan. 6, as well as two of his staff in the White House speechwriting office: Ross Worthington and Vincent Haley. All three were involved in the fake electoral scheme that was key to the Jan. 6 coup attempt and which is now under criminal investigation.
Miller has been paid $137,092 by Save America and $14,750 by the campaign. Worthington and Haley have been paid $26,250 and $28,375 by the campaign, respectively.
Others on the Trump world payroll, though, have in public statements or in testimony before the Jan. 6 committee acknowledged that Trump lost the 2020 election.
Pollster Fabrizio, whose firm was paid $252,875 by Save America, released a report in December 2020 explaining why Trump lost and has said he communicated that directly to Trump. He nevertheless continues to work for Trump.
And Jason Miller, a longtime Trump adviser who is now working for the campaign, admitted under oath to the Jan. 6 committee that were was not enough “fraud and irregularities … to overturn the election.” He has been paid $97,500 by Save America through his business SHW Partners.
Some consultants, meanwhile, have created corporate fronts in the past two years that allow them to receive money from Trump anonymously.
A firm calling itself 305Sunnshine Strategies, for example, was created in December. It has no website, and corporate records in Florida provide no details as to its owners. It has received $60,000 from Save America and $15,000 from the Trump super PAC.
Redshift Strategies is registered to the same firm that handles corporate registrations in St. Petersburg, Florida, as 305Sunnshine Strategies. It has received $22,398 from the super PAC.
We’re Not The ‘Moral Police’
Republican consultants who oppose Trump said it’s unsurprising that some of their colleagues are willing to take money from the Trump operation so long as they can do so without being tied to him publicly.
“The thing that absolutely makes my blood boil is the class of consultants who will tell you that they and their firms draw the line at working for Trump, yet they happily gobble up contracts from the Republican National Committee, 501(c)(4) vehicles, PACs doing independent expenditures around turnout that would drive votes at the presidential level, and any and all committees,” said Lucy Caldwell, who ran former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh’s quixotic primary challenge to Trump in 2020. “Yet somehow they’ve deluded themselves into thinking they’re taking some principled stand because they’re not literally contracted with Trump’s campaign committee.”
Fabrizio, while he would not respond to HuffPost queries, addressed the question of working for Trump in the aftermath of Jan. 6 during a podcast interview with Democratic consultant David Axelrod.
He said in an episode that aired a year ago that he was “in a state of shock” watching the Capitol violence on Jan. 6 and believed Trump should have done something to stop it. Nevertheless, he defended his decision to work for him.
“If people are expecting us to be the moral police, I think they’re expecting a lot from our profession because our profession is not going to do that,” Fabrizio said. “We’re not going to be the moral police.”
That attitude is too common in their business, Longwell said, with Trump’s enablers telling each other that what he did wasn’t that bad, and, besides, Democrats are worse. “So many of our normative values are shaped by what the people around you do,” she said. “I can’t imagine the moral calculus allowing you to go back and work for Trump after Jan. 6.”
Still, she points out that a fair number of experienced and respected Republican consultants rejected working for Trump, leaving him with a staff of lesser ability than a former president with a strong chance of winning the nomination might otherwise have. “There will always be ‘C’ players,” she said.
Stipanovich said he can understand young operatives, early in their career, making moral tradeoffs. “They have mortgages, they have children who have to go to college,” he said, adding it was easier for someone like himself who had already made plenty of money to walk away. “I can afford principles. Some of my colleagues cannot.”
Stuart Stevens, a consultant on the campaigns of former President George W. Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, is unwilling to cut that level of slack, at least when it comes to working for a man who accepted help from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in winning his 2016 election, supported Putin at every turn while in office, attempted to extort Ukraine to win reelection and then last year called Putin’s invasion of Ukraine “genius.”
“So you’re supporting someone you know is backed by Putin?” Stevens said. “Who introduced a pro-Putin element into American politics and who then tried to overthrow the government?”