WASHINGTON — When President Trump comes to Tulsa on Saturday for his first campaign event since the coronavirus shut down the United States, he will be joined by Oklahoma’s most prominent Republican leaders, as well as rising GOP stars from other parts of the country.
Those expected to stand with the president at the BOK Center are Kevin Stitt, the state’s governor, as well as its two U.S. senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, its four Republican members of the House of Representatives and Sen. Tom Cotton from neighboring Arkansas. Also present will be Reps. Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik, ardent defenders of the president who are both from the New York delegation.
One person won’t be there, at least not onstage with Trump and his allies: Tulsa’s own Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator. His absence is a reminder that former Trump Cabinet members rarely leave the administration unscathed.
Pruitt did not return calls from Yahoo News. The Trump campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The mere mention of Pruitt’s name evokes, for some, the freewheeling early days of the Trump presidency, a pre-impeachment, pre-pandemic time when Pruitt’s search for a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel could credibly pass as the biggest story in Washington.
Pruitt was dismissed by Trump shortly after the mattress incident was made public, but the president had clearly been fond of Pruitt, arguing that he was treated unfairly by the media. Yet whatever sympathy Trump may have had for him appears to have expired. That may prove unfortunate for Pruitt, who is only 52 and is widely known to have political ambitions. During the heyday of his tenure, some even suspected he would run for president.
For all the scandal he caused in Washington, Pruitt retained the goodwill of his fellow Sooners. “I think Oklahomans still love him, support him and trust him,” the chairwoman of the Oklahoma GOP told the Associated Press after Pruitt’s dismissal by Trump.
Although he did not seek the governorship of Oklahoma in 2018, as some expected him to do, he was also once rumored to be after a more coveted prize: Inhofe’s seat in the U.S. Senate. At 85, Inhofe is the fifth-oldest member of the entire Congress. Inhofe said in March he would run again, but that was before the coronavirus and anti-racism protests upended virtually every political calculation across the land.
Once in the news on a near-daily basis, Pruitt has been functionally invisible for the better part of a year. “Where in the world is Scott Pruitt?” wondered one headline a year ago. The article noted that he had been spotted at a high-end Tulsa gym, running slowly on a treadmill. He had also registered as an energy lobbyist. There wasn’t much else.
Pruitt’s lonely fate is similar to that of many other top former administration officials. No longer part of Team Trump, removed from the intrigues of Capitol Hill, “formers” like Ryan Zinke (Interior Department) and Reince Priebus (White House chief of staff) are caught in political purgatory.
Some, like Pruitt, Zinke and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, were quickly undone by attempts to replicate the lifestyle befitting a high-net-worth administration. Living luxuriously on the taxpayers’ dollar angered the public, members of Congress and a president always sensitive to bad news.
Others, like Priebus and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, succumbed to the chaos and infighting that have characterized the Trump administration from the very start.
Few of the now-formers survived with their reputations intact. Most notable in that category is former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who always kept his distance from Trump and, most recently, criticized the president for clearing peaceful protesters from Washington’s Lafayette Square in the midst of the anti-racism protests that swept the nation.
Others have tried to claw their reputations back and exact revenge, often by writing books. Among them is David Shulkin, the former Department of Veterans Affairs head and the lone Obama holdover in the original Trump Cabinet. In his book, Shulkin claims that wealthy conservative allies of the president tried to sabotage his efforts and tried to privatize the agency’s operations.
And then, of course, there is John Bolton, who was dismissed as national security adviser in 2019. The scorned Bolton’s new book contains harsh assessments of the president and his policymaking style.
Pruitt is almost certainly not writing a tell-all book, but he did leave the Trump administration with a flourish, penning a fulsome resignation letter to the boss who fired him. “My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people,” Pruitt wrote. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence.”
Being ignored by the Trump campaign is still probably preferable to what happened to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general Trump blamed for the investigation into Russian electoral interference. Fired by Trump, Sessions returned to Alabama and declared he would seek to regain the Senate seat he’d held before joining the Trump administration.
Trump has instead endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, also running for the Republican nomination. For good measure, the president lambasted Sessions, the first sitting senator to endorse his improbable White House bid back in early 2016, for having “no courage.”
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