Apr 24, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Trump brothers Eric and Don Jr. emerge as loyalty czars

Surrounded by police and security, Donald Trump Jr, left, and Eric Trump walk outside a courthouse.

Donald Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, arrive at New York Supreme Court during their father's civil fraud trial last November. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have become key players in the early planning for a second Trump administration's transition team, and would focus on vetting potential officials and staffers for ideology and loyalty, campaign aides and close allies to their father tell Axios.

Why it matters: Neither brother would officially run Donald Trump's transition team, but they'd take a lead in making sure government jobs are filled by Republicans aligned with Trump's vision for the party, the sources said.

  • Don Jr.'s goal "is to keep the John Boltons of the world outside a second Trump administration," a person close to him told Axios, referring to Donald Trump's hawkish former national security adviser who wrote a bestselling book lambasting the former president.

The big picture: The brothers are stepping into the roles as their father is frustrated by other Republican groups such as the Heritage Foundation claiming they are leading the charge on scrutinizing the backgrounds of possible appointees.

  • The groups' aim has been to pre-vet potential contenders for Cabinet-level and lower staff positions to aid Donald Trump's desire to remake the government in his image — without the resistance he faced from career civil servants and some Republicans during his presidency.
  • Those efforts have included former Trump aides who could be in a future administration. Trump campaign advisers believe the groups can be helpful but have been infuriated as the Biden campaign has used the groups' policy papers to attack the campaign.
  • Last November, top Trump aides Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a statement that "any personnel lists, policy agendas, or government plans published anywhere are merely suggestions. Policy recommendations from external allies are just that—recommendations."

Reality check: Even if they're annoyed, it will be hard for the Trump brothers or the campaign to be broadly effective without drafting off the outside groups' work.

Zoom in: This isn't the first time that Trump has deployed family members to key positions to ensure loyalty throughout the GOP.

  • After Trump took control of the Republican National Committee recently, Eric Trump's wife, Lara, became co-chair of the RNC.

Don Jr. asked his father to let him take on a more significant role in planning a transition team this year than in 2016, the last time Donald Trump built such a team.

  • Eight years ago, Don Jr. largely focused on the Interior Department, given his focus on the outdoors and hunting.
  • As they've become more involved, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have maintained a distance from the Trump campaign after serving Donald Trump in the White House.

Don Jr. recently told the New York Post that he plans to be "very active" in the transition, and said he hopes people such as former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and former White House aide Cliff Sims are involved.

  • He said he wanted to make sure "we stop some of the D.C. swamp rats and the swamp creatures from getting in there and doing their thing."
  • He has said he's not looking to join a second Trump administration, but has been lobbying his father on a variety of issues — including who should be the GOP's vice presidential nominee. Don Jr. has said he wants a "fighter" and has mentioned Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance as a contender.

Zoom out: The campaign is still in the early stages of a transition team, with Wiles taking the lead.

  • Presidential transition teams are critical to determining the top personnel in every new White House.
  • Beyond the cabinet and White House teams, new administrations also appoint thousands of political appointees throughout the executive branch.
  • Governed by the Presidential Transition Act, transitions often grow to hundreds of people and cost millions (Biden's team raised more than $20 million for his in 2020).

Trump's team is looking to avoid the turmoil of the 2016 transition.

  • Trump appointed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the effort, only to abruptly fire him soon after the election, leading to chaos that bled into the administration.

What they're saying: The Trump campaign declined to comment.

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