Vice President Pence with Alyssa Farah (clockwise from left) President Trump with Johnny McEntee; Stephanie Grisham with the president; Pence and Marc Short; and Marty Obst.
Vice President Pence with Alyssa Farah (clockwise from left) President Trump with Johnny McEntee; Stephanie Grisham with the president; Pence and Marc Short; and Marty Obst.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Johnny McEntee was President Trump’s final choice to head the White House Personnel Office. He was a 29-year-old former UConn football player who became candidate Trump’s “body man” in 2015.

But by the final fateful weeks of the Trump presidency, after being fired by Chief of Staff John Kelly and banned from the Department of Justice by Attorney General Bill Barr, McEntee had become, according to Jonathan Karl’s new book “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show,” what a senior official described as the “deputy president.”

Most presidents and governors start their terms with what insiders call the “A team,” and by the end of the typical first term, the top talent moves to more lucrative and influential gigs and are replaced by the “B” and and sometimes “C” teams. In Trump’s White House, McEntee’s appointment was much, much further down the HR alphabet.

Six days after Trump lost the election, he fired Defense Sec. Mark Esper, replacing him with Christopher Miller. According to Karl, McEntee also selected Miller’s senior advisor, Ret. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as the White House Personnel Office attempted to invade the Pentagon. McEntee then gave Macgregor a handwritten “to-do list” for the new team at the Pentagon:

“1. Get us out of Afghanistan. 2. Get us out of Iraq and Syria. 3. Complete the withdrawal from Germany. 4. Get us out of Africa.

“This is what the president wants you to do,” McEntee told him. They had until Jan. 20 to complete these withdrawals. If you thought that President Biden’s Afghanistan pullout this past summer was fraught with incompetence, think of how this would have gone.

I tell this story as there is a rampant speculation of a Trump comeback in 2024; that the GOP nomination is his for the asking. Despite his scathing assessment of Trump after his second impeachment trial (“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day”), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support Trump for president if renominated in 2024, which is a scary, scary notion.

Trump is already forcing McConnell to accept repulsive Senate candidates (Hershel Walker of Georgia acknowledges he played Russian roulette with a live round, and Pennsylvania candidate Sean Parnell has denied beating his wife). Now think of the implications of Republicans signing off on a third Trump nomination and potential return to power.

Other Trump insiders are issuing warnings of a second Trump term. Alyssa Farah, who served as the White House’s director of strategic communications and assistant to the president in 2020 as well as press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, describes what she calls the “nightmare scenario” if Trump wins a second term.

“There were things that he wanted to do when he was in power the first time that were well beyond the scope of what the U.S. president should be able to do, but oftentimes it was simply the motivation of hoping to win reelection that kept him from doing things,” Farah told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Whether it’s weaponizing the Justice Department against political opponents, whether it’s going after the free press, he would certainly be open to using the military for political reasons as well.”

Trump’s former White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, told Good Morning America,  “I want to just warn people that once he takes office, if he were to win, he doesn’t have to worry about reelection anymore. He will be about revenge. He will probably have some pretty draconian policies that go on. There were conversations a lot of times that people would say, ‘That’ll be the second term. That’ll be the second term,’ meaning we won’t have to worry about, you know, a reelection.” 

And Fiona Hill, a former national security advisor to Trump, said in another October interview that Trump wanted to “stay in power forever” like Russian President Vladimir Putin and now Chinese President Xi. “He saw Putin as the kind of [the] epitome of the badass populist, frankly, you know, the kind of person that he wanted to be: Super-rich, super-powerful, no checks and balances, and essentially being able to stay in power forever.”

There would be no Dan Coats, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, and “Mad Dog” Mattis in a second Trump term. There would be the F teamers like McEntee, who introduced in the White House Personnel Office Trump loyalty tests and standards that suggest a tinge of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution where youthful fanatics turned on bureaucrats, teachers, former allies and even family members.

On Jan. 1, McEntee handed Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, this rationale for Trump’s Jan. 6 coup d’etat attempt:

“Jefferson Used His Position as VP to Win. The Constitution sets precise requirements for the form in which the states are to submit their electoral votes. In 1801, the ballots of all states were in perfect conformity except Georgia’s. Georgia’s submission dramatically failed to conform to the requirements. VP Jefferson presided over the counting of the ballots even as he was one of the candidates. Had the defective ballots been rejected, Jefferson would have most likely lost the election. Senate tellers told Jefferson in a loud voice that there was a problem with the Georgia ballots. Rather than investigating, Jefferson ignored the problems and announced himself the winner. This proves that the VP has, at a minimum, a substantial discretion to address issues with the electoral process.”

This assessment was the bullshit of a lunatic who just happened to be America’s “deputy president.”

Pence, Short and the vice president’s chief counsel Greg Jacob, all studied the Electoral College counting constitutional requirements and not only rejected McEntee and attorney John Eastman’s coup designs, but they orchestrated and left behind an emphatic paper trail designed to dissuade others who might seek a similar coup d’etat in the future.

Should Hoosier Republicans running on the ballot in 2024 say they are backing Donald Trump, they’re also signing off on Trump’s F team, creating perhaps the end of America’s fragile experiment in democracy.

For Hoosier Republicans like Eric Holcomb, Todd Rokita, Mike Braun, Suzanne Crouch, Victoria Spartz and Jackie Walorski, there’s an easy off ramp: Mike Pence will likely mount a campaign. Hoosier Republicans could have the “favorite son” option.

In the fall of 2015, Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III described the thirst, in some quarters, for an American “strongman.”

A second Trump term would be that sinister fait accompli. 

Pence and staff after Jan. 6

Excerpt from the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa: Vice President Pence met with Marc Short, Marty Obst and other former aides, including former chiefs of staff Nick Ayres and Josh Pitcock, in Pence’s West Wing office on Jan. 13.

Emotions were still frayed. They found it off-putting that Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Jared Kushner seemed to be ignoring the gravity of what had happened, and of how poorly Trump had treated Pence.

Ayres, who had nearly accepted an offer to be Trump’s White House chief of staff in December 2018, had flown to Washington from from his home in Georgia for the meeting. He was angry and unhappy with Pence’s response, which he felt was too soft and too ready to move on. He told Pence he was not interested in going over to see President Trump.

Jared Kushner soon popped his head into Pence’s office and said he would like to chat with Pence about encouraging the president to issue a statement affirming his commitment to governing in the final days of the administration, and to an orderly transition. “Can you help me convince the president to do this?” Kushner asked.

Sure, Pence said, smiling and nodding. He said he would stop by Kushner’s office.

Once Kushner left, Pence turned to his inner circle and said it was nice of Jared to bring him into that process. His aides’ faces were blank.

“Is this a joke?” Ayres asked Pence. “Is that what you called us for?”

“Sir,” Ayres said, “these people are transactional people. They made it very clear what they think of you. How many calls did they make when you were at the Capitol?”

Obst dismissed Kushner’s efforts as “propaganda” and an attempt for Kushner to spiff up his own image following Jan. 6 by seeming to be a broker of a peace with Pence.

“This is about their personal financial situation, this isn’t about the country,” Obst told his colleagues. He said Kushner was probably worried about being linked to the riot once he rejoined the private sector. 
                                ***
President Trump’s Jan. 13 video: “My fellow Americans, I want to be very clear. I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week. Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement. Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week. I want to thank the hundreds of millions of incredible American citizens who have responded to this moment with calm, moderation and grace. We will get through this challenge, just like we always do.”

Before the ending, Trump took a shot at “the efforts to censor, cancel and blacklist our fellow citizens.” It seemed to be a wink at his supporters that even though he was reading this stiff presidential statement, he was with them in spirit.
              ***
The whole world was watching on Jan. 6 as mobsters inspired by President Trump and broke into the U.S. Capitol as Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, daughter and congressman brother fled the rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” down a back staircase. Now we learn from ABC Chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl that Pence had a White House photographer with him. Karl had wanted to use the pictures in his upcoming book, “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show,” telling Stephen Colbert Monday night, “I got ahold of the photographer, I actually saw all of the photographs. This is the vice president of the United States, and he’s like holed up in a basement.” When Karl asked Pence’s team for permission to publish the photos in his book, his request was “vehemently denied.” Karl told Colbert on “The Late Show” that the pictures should be published, as they were “part of the historical record.” He also added that he believes House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack would have interest in viewing the pictures.

The Jan. 6 select committee is interested in talking to at least five people from Pence’s inner circle (CNN). The list could include Keith Kellogg, Greg Jacob, Marc Short, Nick Ayres, Chris Hodgson, Marty Obst and Zach Bauer.