I have a simple theory about why so many ex-Trump staffers can’t get the jobs they want

Gary Cohn and Donald Trump

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Gary Cohn and Donald Trump
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Getty Images/Pool

  • Some former White House staffers are apparently having trouble finding jobs in the private sector.
  • It’s simple: Maybe they’re just not very good at anything.

Annie Linskey of the Boston Globe wrote Tuesday about the difficulties some departing White House staffers are having finding the lucrative private sector jobs they were hoping for.

“Some wonder if White House experience is more of a ball and chain than a springboard,” she writes.

Some of the staffers Linskey spoke with cited companies’ sensitivity about being associated with a controversial administration as a reason their job market outlook was poor. Since the flap over Michael Cohen’s “consulting” arrangements, which led to the departures of top executives at AT&T and Novartis, there might also be elevated concern about legal risk.

But another matter Linskey hits on sounds like a likely, and under-considered, reason many of these staffers are having a tough time on the job market.

She writes:

“Part of the problem, especially for the White House staffers who came from Trump’s ragtag campaign, is they don’t necessarily know how Washington works. ‘There are not as many people who have the experience downtown,’ said a Republican with ties to Trump who runs a lobbying firm. The person has talked to some West Wing aides looking to jump ship and hasn’t been all that impressed. ‘When they talk about drafts, sometimes there’s a weak draft,’ the lobbyist said. ‘This is a middle-of-the-road draft.'”

Connections are one reason why ex-White House staffers are ordinarily hot commodities on the job market. But ordinarily, White House jobs are prestigious and difficult to get, and having obtained one is a sign that a person was highly talented and capable even before they got to the White House and made connections there.

In this administration – where so many top candidates were unwilling to work in the White House, while others were barred by a president obsessed with who had criticized him in the past – it is likely that many of the ex-staffers coming onto the job market simply aren’t very good.

Also, have you seen some of the people this president hires?

This is why I think firms telling ex-Trump staffers they can’t be hired because of the political environment may just be trying to let them down easy.

For example, Tarini Parsi of BuzzFeed news wrote this last month:

“The leadership at a prominent, bipartisan Washington public affairs firm went as far as to make an active decision not to hire from the Trump White House because of the ‘reputational risk’ associated with it, a former White House official was recently told.”

Does this not sound like the job-market equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me“? Maybe the public affairs firm leadership went with, “Gee, the political environment makes these hires tough for us” because it was a more polite line than, “We think you’re a bunch of useless idiots.”

At the end of her story, Linskey hits on an exception that seems to prove the rule: “The one staffer who seems to have lots of options is Gary Cohn.”

She notes that Cohn, who formerly led Trump’s National Economic Council, is being discussed as a possible chairman of Citigroup, and that Cohn has expressed interest in joining corporate boards.

Before serving Trump, Cohn had spent 11 years as the COO of Goldman Sachs. He had a reputation for business excellence before he got to Washington, and he can use that to get a great job. The rest of the jetsam being cast off from the White House has no such reputation to trade on.