Who might fill these kinds of top-ranking jobs in a second Trump administration? A good place to look for clues is the directorship of national intelligence. The first holder of that job in the Trump administration was Dan Coats, a former ambassador and senator from Indiana. When Coats was forced out (you know the pattern by now: too devoted to doing his job, not devoted enough to the president), he was replaced on an interim basis by Ric Grenell, a notorious political bully. After a false start, Trump finally filled the job with John Ratcliffe, who is not only a partisan hack who misrepresented his résumé, but also unqualified for the role, based on the plain language of the statute that created it.
Another useful example is Michael Caputo, who was briefly and chaotically the chief spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year, before taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with a serious illness. Caputo is the sort of figure who wouldn’t get a top job in a normal administration, especially not at HHS in the middle of a pandemic. But if Trump wins, the likely outcome is a further Caputoization of the government—not just at the level of mouthpiece, but in lead roles.
The Senate confirmation process is designed to safeguard against a president placing just this sort of appointee in essential jobs, but there’s little reason to have faith that it would protect the country during a second Trump term. Assume that if Trump wins reelection, Republicans also hold the Senate. GOP senators have shown little appetite for standing up to Trump over the past four years. Consider Ratcliffe’s case, in which objections from Republicans initially sank his nomination, but when Trump simply put Ratcliffe back up, 49 Republicans voted to confirm him. (Four did not vote; none opposed him.)
A more curious situation will come if Democrats capture the Senate even as Biden loses.