Here’s who might lead the Trump transition

While the Veep-stakes is getting the attention; who runs the transition will say even more about the future

Heath Brown
Published in
6 min readApr 24, 2024


Photo by Ana Lanza on Unsplash

In the last couple of weeks, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and NBC News have all speculated about who former-President Donald Trump will choose as his running mate. The typical list runs from (A)bbott to (V)ance with Kari Lake somewhere in the middle.

With so much attention on that choice, there’s almost none focused on who he will pick to run his transition team (Alex Thompson at Axios is an exception!). An understandable oversight by most outlets, but one that misses the importance of this largely insider, but powerful role.

The transition director will develop the personnel and policy plan, organize the future White House, oversee the vetting of hundreds of potential appointees, and interface with the current Biden administration. All the while, they’ll try to keep out of sight of the press and out of the hair of the campaign.

For this reason, who Trump picks for the Veep slot will likely say a lot about where Trump’s head is at right now. Who he chooses to run his transition will say much more about what his administration will look like, should he win this November.

The typical leader of a presidential transition, especially before the election, is a details person, a fixer, and someone who knows the White House as well as they know the candidate. John Podesta knew the White House inside and out, and did that job for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Chris Christie (thought he) knew Trump better than anyone else and was given the position in 2016. Neither ended up doing the job after the election; Podesta because Clinton lost and Christie because he was unceremoniously fired.

Four years later, Jeff Zients — who’s now the White House chief of staff — took on the role for Joe Biden in the spring of 2020. Zients knew Biden and the White House from his time at the Office of Management of Budget during the Obama years and was integral to fixing some of the thorniest problems, like the implementation of healthcare.gov.

Perhaps most important about the role is that it traditionally operates far from the press and public. Until Election Day, it’s the campaign team that runs the show, and campaign directors typically chafe at transition planning that crowds out their messaging and focus on the candidate.

Based on research for my forthcoming book on the Biden-Harris transition, Zients got the job from Joe Biden in 2020 because he wasn’t one to seek out attention, and everyone else on the transition team seems to have been chosen for the very same reason.

And, while an actual transition may seem a long way off, Zients was chosen for the pre-election role exactly four years ago. That’s because, as in 2020, official transition planning is just about to start at the White House, even though Biden is running for re-election. Federal law requires this and, within a couple of weeks, meetings with Trump’s team will commence.

To be sure, Trump’s version of campaigning and politics adheres to few traditions, but the past can at least be used to evaluate who he might (and might not choose) to run his transition.

Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

If history tells us anything, Trump trusts few people more than his own family members. Alex Thompson’s latest reporting suggests just this point for early transition planning. He writes:

“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.”

Of the two brothers, it was Don Jr. who was involved in transition planning in 2016, according to Thompson. That time it was focused on the Interior Department, this time it could be the entire transition.

However, unlike his sister, Ivanka, Don. Jr. never took on an official role in the White House. And, it would seem unlikely Don Jr. would be ok with staying so far away from the 2024 campaign. If transition tradition holds, they’ll likely choose someone without such a penchant for media coverage and nor a central role to play on the campaign.

Kevin Roberts

Another name that came up in Thompson’s recent reporting is the president of the Heritage Foundation, Kevin Roberts.

Heritage has been the loudest voice on transition planning for 2024. Roberts has been at the helm for this effort to enlist dozens of conservative groups to agree to a common plan on policy and personnel.

He’s then a logical choice if it turns out this agenda, on everything from a national ban on abortion to curtailing civil rights, is the right one for Trump.

Roberts also oversees a massive personnel recruitment and vetting process which, Heritage claims, will be ready for the next president on Day 1 of the transition. Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman dubbed it the “right-wing LinkedIn.”

Despite the resonance with many Trump’s themes, after publishing its Project 2025, a regular effort by Heritage to outline the most conservative agenda, the Trump campaign rebuked these efforts as distracting and not agreed upon by Trump. The campaign signaled that the messages were right, but the timing was all wrong.

This would seem to count as a demerit against Roberts getting the job as would his limited time in the White House. Unlike White House veteran, John Podesta, who was also running a think tank at the time he was chosen for the transition job in 2016, Roberts has never worked at the White House, raising questions about his fitness for the role.

Stephen Miller

Another close Trump adviser with much more White House experience than Don. Jr. or Roberts is Stephen Miller.

Miller was at Trump’s side even before settling down for four years in his office in the West Wing. Miller, who now runs the think tank, America First Legal Foundation (which has joined the Project 2025 efforts), was in charge of national policy on Trump transition team in 2016. From those early days, Miller’s anti-immigration agenda has filled in the policy details of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric. He’s also one of the few Trump allies that remains in play that understands how a transition works.

John McEntee

Miller is an obvious choice, but his focus thus far in his career has been policy, and a relatively narrow swath of policy at that. Policy matters a lot to this process, yet much transition planning, perhaps the most important part of it, is personnel related.

Personnel planning during the transition period is extensive and time-consuming since a newly-elected President has 4,000 jobs to decide on, including the cabinet and sub-cabinet positions that need Senate confirmation. Many of these choices have to be made before the Election, so that they are ready to be announced, should the candidate win.

For this reason, Trump’s transition director may come out of the conservative staffing world, someone like John McEntee, who directed Presidential Personnel at the end of Trump’s time in office. Importantly, it was McEntee who led the effort to implement Schedule F, the executive order to reclassify thousands of federal employees, subjecting them to possible dismissal following the next transition.

Though Biden withdrew this order, Schedule F is central to Heritage’s Project 25 plans according to political scientist Don Moynihan and McEntee is currently involved in those efforts. McEntee, or another like Paul Dans, would make a logical transition director for Trump.

Linda McMahon

Choosing someone from the constellation of groups organizing Project 2025 would make some sense, but Trump’s staffing choices have often veered wildly from logic. Trump has long seemed to enjoy pitting staffers against each other and recognized how this ultimately secures his own position and power.

For this reason, he may opt for someone outside of the House of Project 2025, maybe from its chief rival in these efforts, America First Policy Institute (AFPI). In the New York Times, Sam Adler-Bell noted that “ideological and personal rivalries simmer” between these two groups, Heritage representing the far right stalwarts and AFPI the Republican Party’s establishment wing. He quoted one person who said “A.F.P.I. and Heritage hate each other with a passion.”

Recognizing these conflicts, Trump could choose someone, like former his Small Business Administration administrator, Linda McMahon, who’s currently board chair of AFPI and oversees its own efforts to prepare for the next Republican president.

McMahon also would bring to the position a legitimacy that comes from having served in a previous cabinet, something McEntee, Miller, and Roberts cannot claim. And, unlike many of her former administration colleagues, like Nikki Haley, James Mattis, and Mark Esper, she has remained unwaveringly committed to Trump.



Heath Brown

Heath Brown, associate prof of public policy, City University of New York, study presidential transitions, school choice, nonprofits