A Critique of Donald Trumps Political Patronage

The patronage system allows an individual who may be potentially appointed toa government system to gain political support as they work on their merit. Political patronage expounds on the idea of expanding criteria and reputation with useful support for favoritism within a society. Evidently, significant in modern times, political patronage recognizes the associations between the president and individuals within the government; however, there isa clear distinguishment on whether or not these connections are politically correct, or appropriate.

During the campaign of our now president Donald Trump, there was a spirit of inquiry, outrage and controversy. This was caused by suspicion regarding his decisions regarding those being elected for government positions. Choosing people who were nescient with the political systems, he made his decisions with the purpose of self-benefit. Political patronage is the “awarding of the discretionary favors of government in exchange for political support” (Tolchin 2010).

In other words, it is the support, encouragement, and aid by an individual or organization for a politician, and their ability to reciprocate the favor. Patronage can be seen as a favor from either party to deprive the other of their independence to make decisions. While political patronage has decreased significantly since the 1800s, it remains prevalent in modern day politics. In the 21st century, the government has become a personal patronage system for Donald  as he remains a media spectacle and uses it as an advantage to build connections and further his relationships for the sake of patronage.

Hiring Lynne Patton was Trump’s first example of Trump’s patronage. Being a celebrity golfer and event planner, Patton was appointed as administrator of the US department of housing and urban development (Plum Book, 2017). Lacking obvious experience or qualifications related to her appointed job, Lynne gained power within the government due to her relationship with the president.

“Her appointment indicates the Trump administration’s determination to distribute jobs to well-connected friends and relatives, regardless of their qualifications” (Grabar 2017). Serving as a concrete portrayal of political patronage, Trump displays the significance of having those who indisputably support his ideologies while he is in power. Political patronage surrounds the concept that one has the power to appoint those to office based off of privilege and Patton’s placement emphasizes this. Succeeding that point, would be the example of James Comey, the former FBI director.

Becoming a topic of conversation, the president was ordered to be placed under investigation by Comer due to his allegations regarding a relationship with the Russians. Trump lacked authority under the circumstances, and made the decision to build an alliance with Comey, while threatening his job. In the midst of this growing “friendship”, Trump asked Comey to assist him in destroying this perception of betrayal, while redirecting the investigation to Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Patronage is shown here in a myriad of ways as Trump uses his power as an asset when he uses his ties to divert the attention to someone other than him. The involvement of personal parties was intended to help him grow as an intimidating leader all while regaining the trust of his fellow Americans. The threat of Comey’s job is also a form of patronage that highlights Trump’s power. Questioning Comey’s loyalty to not only him but the country, Trump told him that his job was dependent on his malleability in the investigation. He wanted to involve personal parties.

Considerably a crime, Trump promised Comey the security of his job once his faithfulness was displayed in ways favorable to him. Comey made a statement in which he understood that Trump was not requesting adherence, but rather intended on creating a patronage relationship with him. This was documented in a conversation between Trump and Comey, according to Mariotti (2017), but the president supposedly denied the conversation. Political patronage can also be exemplified by the election of a few individuals to high level governmental jobs.

Prior to the election, “more than a third of the almost 200 people who have met with Donald Trump…including those interviewing for administration jobs, gave large amounts of money to support his campaign and other Republicans this election cycle” (Arnsdorf 2016). Roughly 38% of the 119 individuals elected to these high level government jobs, were those who donated to Trump’s campaign.

These donors have played a large role in the campaign, and Donald Trump has accepted the donations. According to Arnsdorf (2016), Trump criticizes others for accepting donations from supporters, even if the donations end up going towards something other than an individual’s campaign. For example, Hillary Clinton encountered some donations for her campaign, but ended up giving those donations to a charity. Donald had critiqued this, but manages to accept the donations he is given to maintain his loyalty to the donors.

Despite these donations, Donald Trump has and does in fact contribute to his own campaign, however, he claims that because he self funds his campaign, he is not controlled by his “donors, special interests or lobbyists” (2016). If someone feels obligated to accept something, then in essence he or she is on control of that person making the donation. Many of the individuals, 38% to be act exact, who have donated to Donald Trump’s campaign have been appointed positions in the government, despite their inexperience. For example, six of the top donors were appointed to cabinet.

Trump claimed that he did this because he wanted people who understood the value of money, or in his words “those who madea fortune” (2016). In Trump’s perspective it is sensible to elect government officials who value money. Such an attribute is notable in the business world, but the president cannot prioritize this over experience and knowledge relative to the given position. Many of the donors have personal ties to Trump, or someone else in office who is a supporter of Trump. One of the biggest donors during the election was Todd Ricketts.

He owns the Chicago Cubs, and founded TD Ameritrade. He is one of the Republican party’s top benefactors, and his family has donated more than $35 million over the past years to the party, and personally donated around $64,000. He was appointed by Donald Trump himself, as deputy secretary of commerce. Another donor, by the name of Betsy Devos, who with the help of her husband, contributed over $10 million to the party, and around $450,000 to Trump’s fundraising committee.

She now leads the department of education. An investor, by the name of Steven Mnuchin, has personally donated $425,000 to his campaign, and was then picked by Trump for treasury secretary. Trump has even chose to give other roles to those who donate large amounts of money. Rebekah Mercer, a huge benefactor who, with the help of her father, now has a crucial role in helping Trump select cabinet members. These individuals have been rewarded for their “loyalty”, as Trump would describe it.

In addition to electing those who have given tremendous amounts of money to Trumps campaign and to the Republican party in general, family members receive benefits. “Donor tallies include spouses and, in the case of Rickets and DeVos, other close relatives who participate in the family’s’ political largess” ( 2016). Patronage has and always will be prevalent in politics. It is important to recognize that in an America controlled by Donald Trump, the chances of issues being solved monetarily, witnessing bribery and threats being made will increase immensely.

Loyalty is valuable, and those who follow politics, and have heard about the patronage during the past election, need to understand that loyalty does not derive from the promise of wealth or from donations, despite Donald Trump’s belief. Donating to an election should not affect whether or not that donor has a place in cabinet or in the government, and lying for someone in extreme authority should not affect one’s job, and dictate their level of loyalty. However, loyalty, in addition to donations, should have nothing to do with placement in government in the first place.

Experience, expertise, and knowledge should be attributed by those who are associated with the government.


  • Arnsdorf, I. (2016, December 27). Trump rewards big donors with jobs and access.Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/donald-trump-donors-rewards-232974
  • Folke, O., Hirano, S., & Snyder, J. (2011). Patronage and Elections in U.S States. The American Political Science Review, 105(3), 567-585. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41480858
  • Grabar, H. (2016). Trump Party Planner Assumes Oversight Role of Nation’s Largest Public Housing Authority. Retrieved September 18, 2017 http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/m etropolis/2017/11/the_louvre_abu_ dhabi_and_the_future_of_cities.html
  • Mariotti, R. (2017, June 13). Did Trump ask for ‘loyalty’ or ‘patronage?’ One could bea crime. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/337544-did-trump-ask-for-loyalt y-or-patronage-one-of-those
  • Plum Book. 2016th ed., United States Government, 2016, m.gpo.gov/plumbook/#home. Schuster, C. (2016). What causes patronage reform? It depends on the type of civil service reform. Public Administration 94(4), 1094-1104. doi: 10.1111/padm.12280
  • Shin, J. H. (2015). Voter demands for patronage: Evidence from indonesia. Journal of East Asian Studies, 15(1), 127-151,165. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.fau.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1654045749?accou ntid=10902
  • Tolchin, M., & Tolchin, S. (2011). Pinstripe Patronage. New York: Routledge.

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