President Trump is out of the White House. But even now, he’s still probably the best hope for the Republican Party to chart an America-first path forward and fully leave behind the failed ideology of the Bush era.

But it’s been more than six years since Donald Trump descended the escalator. By this point, I think all of us understand his strengths and weaknesses fairly well. They don’t change much, and President Trump’s list of strengths and accomplishments is long, so let’s take a look at the shortlist. President Trump’s biggest weakness now is the same one he had back in 2015: The people he surrounds himself with.

When he was in the White House, there was some improvement over time. 2017, with Reince Priebus running the shop, was a disaster. But 2020 was a lot better, and the reason comes down to personnel. A true Trump loyalist, John McEntee, was put into the White House personnel office. McEntee didn’t have some amazing resume. He was only 29 when he took that job. But he knew how to distinguish people who supported Trump’s agenda and frauds who were exploiting him, and so personnel appointments became much better.

Anyway, that’s all in the past. Now, President Trump is in Mar-A-Lago, and I’m afraid to say that it looks like a lot of the same scammers, grifters, frauds, and clueless idiots have surrounded him. You can see the signs everywhere.

Consider Liz Cheney. Liz Cheney is obviously toast out in Wyoming. She’s not winning reelection. Trump and the base justifiably despise her. But Liz Cheney would like to influence who her replacement is.

Well, Politico just reported on Wednesday that Trump has made his choice about whom he will endorse for the seat. It’s former gubernatorial candidate Harriet Hageman. Now, this is a bizarre pick. How bizarre? If you go to PredictIt, the website where you can bet on political outcomes, there’s a market for who will win the Wyoming house seat. As of Wednesday, there were 12 candidates listed, and Harriet Hageman was not one of them.

Here’s some more: According to NationalFile.com, In 2016 Hageman was on the floor at the RNC leading the charge to free the GOP delegates so they could vote for Ted Cruz instead of Trump.

In fact, Hageman has been friends with Cheney since at least 2013. Until this week, she’d avoided making any negative statements about Cheney.  She didn’t attend the Wyoming GOP meeting that censured Cheney.

But now, Hageman has Trump’s endorsement. Why? Apparently, money. As Politico reported on Wednesday, it sounds like lots of people in Trump’s orbit are poised to work on her campaign, directly or indirectly.

Well, this doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. I can report today that I’ve spoken with somebody very close to President Trump, and that person says that one of the president’s closest aides, Bill Stepien, is selling the president’s endorsement for money. Now to be clear, this person says Trump himself didn’t know about this, and I haven’t learned the exact form this quid pro quo took, but the overall thrust was clear: Stepien is arranging for President Trump to endorse candidates for reasons other than their actual politics. That would explain the out of nowhere choice of Hageman, and all the Trump orbiters lined up to get contracts and jobs from her campaign.

Meanwhile, Liz Cheney gets to essentially pick her own replacement to Congress.

This isn’t the only example. In Arkansas, President Trump has already endorsed incumbent Senator John Boozman, when there is a superior challenger in Jan Morgan.

So Bill Stepien was the guy who managed Trump’s campaign in the final five months of the 2020 race. In other words, he’s the guy who botched what should have been a sure thing. But he personally made lots of money doing it, and now he gets to make more on the 2022 races. He wins, even if America first loses.

There are also Trump orbiters like Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski at least opposes Liz Cheney in Wyoming, but I’ve been told that he’s also essentially selling Trump’s endorsements. Lewandowski certainly has done very well for himself. He owns at least three houses. One of them is worth $1.2 million, in Naples, Florida. He also might be a confidential informant for the FBI, again, according to a source close to the Trump world.

There are more: There’s Chris Christie flunkie Justin Clarke, who managed election-day operations last year. There’s Mike Shields, who has Lincoln Project ties, and his wife Katie Walsh, who was Reince Priebus’s key underling in 2017. These people are still around, still influencing Trump’s world when they’re the people who gave us President Biden.

And looming above everything, at all times, there’s Jared Kushner and Ivanka, who never liked Trump entering the political spotlight, and never liked his 2016 agenda. They did everything they could to ruin and derail it, and they’re still at it today.

There’s talk that President Trump could be announcing a 2024 campaign soon, far earlier than the norm. Don’t be surprised if he does. But if President Trump doesn’t fundamentally overhaul the people around him, then he’ll struggle to reclaim the presidency. But even more important, if he doesn’t change the people around him, a second term will face the same problems as the first.

Lauren Witzke is an America First Conservative, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Delaware who garnered more votes than any former Republican Senate candidate in Delaware’s history, she worked for Trump Victory in 2018 and she joined Stew today.

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