Where Are They Now? Flynn, Other Trump Alums Keep MAGA Hopes Alive
Michael Flynn, a onetime national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, was videotaped in Texas over the weekend pushing talking points of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory and also seeming to endorse a coup in the United States, though he later said he doesn't back a coup.
Flynn is one of many Trump acolytes who, along with the former president himself, continue to push the lie that Trump actually won the 2020 election.
Flynn's claims on the issue are just one way in which Trump allies are trying to maintain the MAGA movement. A review of what Trump alums are up to shows that there are two distinct groups: those who are going all-in on Trump and MAGA, often creating new entities to institutionalize the movement outside of established GOP circles; and those who are going more traditional conservative routes.
In that way, the split echoes how Trump has created a rift in the Republican Party, with more establishment figures sidelined.
Like Trump himself, many of the people around him during his presidency were unorthodox. A number of his aides and nominees were outside mainstream politics, came from various walks of life — like his family — and fell in and out of favor with the former president at various points.
Some former aides and campaign officials are still close to Trump. Dan Scavino, for example, who ran his social media accounts, is a senior adviser, as is Jason Miller, a former campaign adviser.
Others have an eye on the next crop of candidates. Among their efforts, Kellyanne Conway, the 2016 campaign manager and White House adviser, is on board a Senate candidate's campaign in Ohio; and Bill Stepien, who was campaign manager for Trump's 2020 run, is working the campaign of a Senate candidate in Missouri.
Some, like Brad Parscale, are keeping a foot in both worlds. Parscale was Trump's digital director in 2016 and campaign manager for a short time in 2020 before a domestic incident sidelined him. Parscale is reportedly helping Trump set up a new social media platform, which has not yet materialized, and he is advising a gubernatorial candidate in Ohio and boosting another in New Jersey.
And in all, at least four new Republican-aligned groups have cropped up, involving at least two dozen Trump alums and surrogates, with the goal of raising money, pushing Trump's policies and message to the public and in the courts, as well as backing candidates in the mold of the former president.
But there are also about half a dozen former Trump world officials waiting in the wings and taking steps in case Trump doesn't run for president again in 2024, hoping to capitalize on the movement for themselves. Others are engaged in conservative media or gone more traditional routes.
Here's a glimpse at some of those key players and where they are now:
America First Legal: Stephen Miller, former White House adviser and hard-liner on immigration; Mark Meadows, former chief of staff; Russ Vought, ex-budget director (now also president of the Center for Renewing America); and Matthew Whitaker, former acting attorney general, are all working together at the new group. It vows to take court action against the "Radical Left." Consider it the legal arm of defending the Trump legacy, and it has Trump's stamp of approval.
America First Policy Institute: Many former officials have signed up with the group, which says its goal is to "conduct research and develop policies that put the American people first."
Its founder is Brooke Rollins, the former head of Trump's Office of American Innovation. The chair of the board is Linda McMahon, Trump's small business administration administrator and wife of the head of WWE, Vince McMahon. Larry Kudlow, who now has his own Fox Business show and was Trump's director of the National Economic Council, is vice chair. It includes former Cabinet secretaries and heads of agencies, is being advised by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and even includes Paula White-Cain, a former White House spiritual adviser who went viral for her sermon after Election Day calling on angels in Africa and South America, and deriding "demonic confederacies" who were trying to steal the election from Trump.
American Greatness PAC/American Greatness Fund: Parscale founded the American Greatness PAC and a nonprofit offshoot, the American Greatness Fund. Right up Trump's alley, the group has formed an Election Integrity Alliance and claims to want to strengthen "election safeguards." The board of the group includes former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and disgraced former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.
Fight Back Now America: Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager from the 2016 campaign, created the group, which tests the limits of the fighting metaphor. The top image on its website is an empty boxing ring. It's seeking to raise money, it says, to defeat Democrats and fund primary opponents of candidates who are presumably not Trumpy enough, like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney.
If the fighting imagery wasn't enough, the combativeness even runs deep into its philosophy. "The time for niceties, spin and nuance is over," the site reads. Like an Elizabeth Warren campaign speech, the word "fight" appears 23 times on the site's front page. Of course, what they're fighting for is very different.
Waiting in the wings
Mike Pence, the former vice president, who was targeted during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection because his boss continued to say he wouldn't block certification of President Biden's victory, is forming a policy fundraising committee. The former radio host joined the conservative Young America Foundation, where he will launch a podcast. And he has has a multimillion-dollar book deal; he's set to write two books, including an autobiography due out in... 2023, which just so happens to be right when a GOP presidential primary would be kicking off.
Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, took a position with the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, and was named a Fox News contributor. He's staying engaged in politics, though. Among his efforts he's reportedly planning a trip to Israel on the heels of one by his successor.
Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, created a group called Stand for America, and while its stated goal is to promote conservative issues and ideas, the website looks more like it's promoting her. There are lots of photos of Haley — including with Trump, someone she's had a hot-and-cold relationship with — on what could be a presidential campaign site-in-waiting.
Ben Carson, the former housing secretary, created a think tank (the American Cornerstone Institute) and political action committee (Think BIG America PAC). The group, Carson says, will also look to fund candidates. "We'll be very interested in who are the people who are advocating visions that are logical and that make sense," Carson has said. Before you think that the low-key former brain surgeon isn't likely to run, remember he was one of only a few candidates who took over the lead (even if briefly) from Trump during the Republican presidential primary in 2015.
Donald Trump Jr., Trump's eldest child, continues the fight on Twitter, where his father is banned, trying to trigger and own the libs. But Trump Jr. can't be dismissed as simply an amplifier for his father. During his father's presidency, Trump Jr. distinguished himself politically, arguably more than either of his siblings.
While Ivanka was a White House adviser, Don Jr. appears poised to be the political heir apparent of the MAGA movement. His natural affinity for the Trump base has won him the adoration of the rank and file, and it's made him a draw on the campaign trail, not just for his father, but down-ballot candidates. He's still running the Trump Organization with his brother, but once someone catches the political bug, it's hard to shut it off. His problem, though, is that he has no natural place to run — yet. He has recently moved to Florida, but there's no race open there at the moment. And there's that criminal probe to deal with in New York.
The rest of the family
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and former White House adviser, is reportedly founding the Abraham Accords Institute to facilitate trade between Israel and other accords signatory countries. Also on board are former White House envoy Avi Berkowitz; Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor; former UAE and Bahrain ambassadors to the U.S., as well as an Israeli foreign minister.
Ivanka Trump still lists herself on Twitter as "advisor to POTUS," despite her father being out of office for more than five months now. What she does next is still an open question. Eric Trump continues to run the Trump Organization, though that has become more complicated given the New York criminal investigation. He also moved to Florida earlier this month. Tiffany Trump mostly avoided the spotlight during her father's time in office, but during it she graduated from Georgetown Law school and on the final day of Trump's presidency, she announced that she's engaged.
Lara Trump, Eric's wife, always seemed to be the bigger hit with the Trump crowds than her husband — and she seemed to enjoy the political limelight more. There had been speculation that she could run for the Senate in her home state of North Carolina, but with her recent move to Florida, there was talk she might challenge Sen. Marco Rubio in a primary. That was put to rest, however, when the former president endorsed Rubio.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former White House press secretary, is running for governor of Arkansas, a job her father once held. She asked for and got Trump's endorsement.
Ryan Zinke, the former Interior secretary, rode in on a horse but left under the cloud of investigations. He joined an investment firm, joined the board of a gold mining company and is now running again for Congress in Montana.
Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician, is now a congressman from Texas, despite a Pentagon inspector general's report finding that he bullied subordinates, harassed women and smelled of alcohol while serving in the White House.
In the media
Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign chairman, got new life with a presidential pardon after being charged last year with allegedly defrauding Trump supporters in a scheme he claimed was to help finish the southern border wall. Now, the former Breitbart founder is back in the media with an influential online show and podcast called War Room and... selling supplements.
Kayleigh McEnany, former White House press secretary, signed on as a Fox News contributor.
Sean Spicer, the former and first White House press secretary of "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period" fame, Spicer got spicy with the dance moves and fashion choices on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. He now hosts a show on the right-wing cable channel Newsmax.
Show me the money
Steven Mnuchin, former treasury secretary, started an investment fund. He's landed in controversy already for it because he is reportedly seeking funding from Persian Gulf countries, many of which he traveled to as treasury secretary. He also is reportedly looking to hire Israel's current director of Mossad, its spy agency. He's also charging upwards of $250,000 a speech. If that's too steep for you, he's happy to give you a discount for virtual speeches, which will only cost you $75,000.
Mick Mulvaney, former chief of staff, budget director and envoy to Northern Ireland, started a hedge fund.
Wilbur Ross, Trump's former commerce secretary, is back on Wall Street with a $345 million "blank check" fund, groups that help raise cash for initial public offerings.
Anthony Scaramucci, the 11-day White House communications director, went back to his investment firm SkyBridge.
A class of their own
Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary, was a villain to the left during Trump's presidency, and she's continued in that role. DeVos started a group called the American Federation for Children, a school choice and private school advocacy group. As secretary, DeVos was at odds with teachers unions, and even the name of her new group seems a direct response to the teachers unions, the largest of which is the American Federation of Teachers. She has continued to criticize teachers, saying school closures during the pandemic fall "at the feet of the teachers' unions and all of their allies." She got some bad news recently, though, as a judge in California ruled she has to sit for a three-hour deposition about her role in not issuing student-loan forgiveness to students who said their for-profit colleges defrauded them. It's part of a class-action lawsuit.
Bill Barr, the former attorney general, is writing a book.
Gen. John Kelly, former chief of staff, joined the board of Caliburn, a defense contractor that also operates four shelters for migrant children.
Gen. James Mattis, former defense secretary, joined the board of General Dynamics, a defense contractor, and is a senior counselor at The Cohen Group, a business consultant group.
Don McGahn, former White House counsel, has rejoined the law firm Jones Day. He is slated to testify on Capitol Hill Friday in relation to the Mueller investigation. It comes two years after the House Judiciary Committee first requested his testimony, but was blocked by the Trump administration.
Kirstjen Nielsen is a former homeland security secretary whom Trump loyalists referred to as "Nurse Ratched" behind her back because of her rigid style. Ironically, she left the administration after Trump didn't see her as sufficiently tough enough. Post-Trump, she's advises on security threats and risk management.
Reince Priebus, former chief of staff, is president and chief strategist at Michael Best Law.
Andrew Wheeler, former EPA administrator and former coal lobbyist, joined the Heritage Foundation.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.