Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff surprised everyone this weekend – none more than Donald Trump it seems – when he turned down Trump’s offer to succeed John Kelly as Trump’s third Chief of Staff. An overeager Trump couldn’t wait to announce Kelly’s departure this weekend and now he’s running through an increasingly desperate and comical list of potential chiefs of staff after Ayers turned him down. What happened here?
Part of the equation must be that it’s a good time to get out of the Trump administration. All the signs are there of a slowing economy and quite possibly a sharp recession timed to hit during 2020. (I don’t think people get just how critical the surging economy has been to keeping Trump just deeply unpopular as opposed to catastrophically unpopular.) More dramatically, it’s not just President Trump’s legal vulnerability that is increasingly clear. It is personally perilous to be near him and his family.
But there’s another part of the equation with Ayers that seems just as clear to me.
Most or all of that money appears to come out of Ayers’ work as a campaign operative in the increasingly lucrative world of dark money politics. There are lots of ways a guy like Ayers gets that money. But the central one is TV advertising. If you control the ad budgets, you get a large slice of the cash for yourself, usually by owning or having a stake in the company that the campaign has place the ads. Reporting from Axios and other outlets last night says that Ayers is planning to run the main pro-Trump outside group America First, which he helped found last year. It seems like it was that gig that made Ayers refuse to give Trump more than a three month commitment.
Put it all together and you see that Ayers is a guy who has already accumulated a staggering personal fortune on political work. Given the inherently lucrative nature of that kind of work and the nose-bleed high tolerance for corruption in the Trump world, running the big unregulated money stream for the President’s reelection campaign is an opportunity to rake in an almost unimaginable amount of money. In perfectly Trumpian fashion, Ayers appears to have stiffed his boss in a richly humiliating way so that he could cash in big time on his name and political movement.