Steven Mnuchin ’85, Ben Carson ’73, Wilbur Ross ’59, Alex Azar LAW ’91, Stephen Schwarzman ’69, Christopher Wray ’89 LAW ’92 — and now, John Bolton ’70 LAW ’74.
When Bolton steps into his role as President Donald Trump’s new national security advisor in April, he will join a growing cohort of Yalies in Trump’s circle. Four members of Trump’s 16-member Cabinet are Yale alumni and three other prominent alumni serve or advise the president in various capacities. And while Trump has axed many other top officials — including FBI director James Comey, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and, most recently, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster — the Yalies have survived his recent purge of the one-year-old administration.
The number of Yale alumni in Trump’s administration is strikingly high, especially for a president who has vowed repeatedly to “drain the swamp” of the Washington establishment. George W. Bush ’68 had only two Cabinet members from his own alma mater — former attorneys general Michael Mukasey LAW ’67 and John Ashcroft ’64 — although over the years his administration also included a vice president, CIA director and national security advisor who attended Yale. Apart from Mnuchin, Carson, Ross and Azar, two other Trump Cabinet members hold Ivy League degrees — both from Harvard.
President Barack Obama had a total of six Yale alumni in his Cabinet over the course of his two terms in the White House, but never more than three at the same time. About two thirds of his 2014 Cabinet attended an Ivy League institution.
In contrast to his predecessors, Trump has picked senior officials and trusted advisors from the business world, including Yalies. Ross ran a private equity fund and was reported to have a net worth of $2.5 billion before he became Trump’s secretary of commerce. Schwarzman, who headed a business forum created by Trump and reportedly advised him on a range of issues, is chairman and CEO of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group. In addition to those two, Mnuchin serves as secretary of the treasury, Carson as secretary of housing and urban development, Azar as secretary of health and human services and Wray as director of the FBI.
The strong Yale presence in Trump’s inner circle is also notable given the liberal leanings of Yale’s campus community. According to a 2017 News survey, just 9 percent of undergraduates voted for Trump.
Bolton complained in his memoir of Yale’s “relentless, smug, self-satisfied liberalism.” Terence Diggory ’73, who had a friendly relationship with Carson, said that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when four of Trump’s Yale-affiliated advisors attended the University, campus was caught up in a radical left-wing student movement.
“Left-leaning views dominated in events and debates,” Diggory said. “I may have been dimly aware that there were conservative students who held different views, but they were rarely heard from, and they certainly did not seem to constitute a ‘movement.’”
Yet despite a liberal majority among the students, Yale has had its share of conservative political and intellectual leaders, including William F. Buckley ’50 and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas LAW ’74 and Samuel Alito LAW ’75. Robert Bork, a leader of American conservatism in his time and solicitor general under Richard Nixon, taught at Yale Law School for almost two decades.
“Yale’s campus has not always been ‘very liberal,’” political science professor Jacob Hacker GRD ’00 said. “The ongoing movement of the Yale student body to the left mirrors what’s happened at other elite universities — and, indeed, what’s happened among college-educated Americans in general.”
The presence of Yalies in the upper echelons of the Trump administration may also provide lobbying opportunities for the University.
Asked whether Yale plans to contact its alumni in Trump’s inner circle as part of the University’s lobbying efforts, Associate Vice President for Federal and State Relations Richard Jacob, the University’s top lobbyist, said having Yale graduates in government can provide a boost to the lobbying process.
“We meet or speak to government officials at the Federal, state and local level involved with issues that affect the university and our community, whether a Yale graduate or not, to educate them on what we believe is best,” Jacob said in an email to the News. “It is fair to assume that Yale graduates may understand those issues more easily from their familiarity with the university.”
Trump graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 with a degree in economics.
Jingyi Cui | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, March 27: A previous version of this article said that President George W. Bush had only one Yale alumnus in his Cabinet. In fact, he had two. The story has also been updated to reflect that several non-Cabinet officials in the Bush administration attended Yale.