Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has become too toxic to hire after her stint with the Trump administration, The Washington Post reports — despite her history of “serving on the boards of big public companies such as Dole Foods, Protective Life and Wells Fargo.”
She offered sterling credentials to businesses eager to keep current with the Republican leadership: A former banking executive, she became the first Asian American woman to serve in a Cabinet when President George W. Bush tapped her to serve as labor secretary. She has been a regular at conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute. Her husband is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But now Chao is encountering a fraught reentry into the private sector.
Headhunters who have sought similarly prominent work for Chao have found little interest, according to two headhunters she’s consulted personally. The headhunters, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions, said top executives wary of backlash from associating with former Trump officials are boiling down Chao’s four-decade Washington résumé to its most recent entry: long-standing ally of Donald Trump, despite her resignation the day after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Chao declined to comment, The Times reported, but “a person close to her says she has not been entirely shut out of the corporate world.”
“She’s evaluating a number of invitations to join various corporate boards while helping former colleagues land as well,” this person said. “She’s interested in new economy companies, has already accepted board positions and is currently in various stages of finalizing agreements with them and others.”
The former Trump official is not alone in her predicament, according to the report.
While the small numbers make comparisons difficult, corporations don’t seem to have an immediate interest in other top Trump administration alums either. Roughly half of the S&P 500 companies have filed their 2021 investor disclosure reports, listing a total of 108 new or prospective board members, according to data from Insightia, which provides information to shareholders. No Trump Cabinet officials who served in the final quarter of his term are among those nominated.
Headhunters and other corporate advisers say the calculus for executives at most large, publicly traded companies is simple. Trump — the only president to be impeached twice, the second time on a charge he incited the mob that assaulted the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results — left office with a majority of Americans strongly disapproving of his job performance. He remains a lightning rod for controversy and faces ongoing legal exposure from civil lawsuits and criminal investigations. Offering a board seat to anyone in his inner orbit risks inviting a revolt from customers, employees or shareholders.
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Evan Walker / Public Domain