Trump’s Pick for Berne

“He called Ed and the rest was history” — South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster

Ed McMullen is President Trump’s pick for US Ambassador to Switzerland. A close ally of POTUS, the South Carolina GOP honcho is described as “extremely smart” by people who know him, and that his appointment demonstrates that “Trump cares about Switzerland.

By Florian Schwab and Urs Gehriger

January 19th, 2017. It is the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Not far away from the Capitol, a warm-up party is underway. The host is Ed McMullen, GOP political consultant and South Carolina Svengali credited with delivering the Palmetto state to Team Trump in the Republican primary. 

The next morning, McMullen is set to accompany the First Family for morning prayer services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, opposite to the White House. Later, the long time friend and ally will be listening proudly to the inaugural address just a few feet away from his candidate, now President of the United States.

At his warm-up party, McMullen is shaking hundreds of hands to the raucous rhythms of a Southern band. A couple of guests from Switzerland are greeted with a particularly wide smile. Only a tiny circle of insiders know that their host is Trump’s choice for U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. Nothing is official, yet. And it’s only been recently revealed because of a photo posted on Facebook. The presumed ambassador to Luxembourg inadvertently outed the pick with a photo of a preparatory session for future ambassadors where McMullen’s name can be clearly seen. 

Well informed sources confirm to “Weltwoche Magazine” that the photo is what it appears: Ed McMullen is Trump’s designated ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Congressional hearings and an approval by the Swiss government are all that lie between McMullen and the US embassy in Berne. Asked for comment by “Die Weltwoche”, the designated ambassador indicates that he is not making official declarations before being confirmed. 

Breaking from the tradition of big time donors scoring the plum position, McMullen is not primarily a generous campaign financier. He was the architect of Trump’s primary victory in the South Carolina. As the GOP’s third stop on the primary calendar, the southern state was a key milestone on the way to Trump’s nomination and eventual general election victory. After bagging Iowa and New Hampshire, winning south of the Mason Dixie Line gave Trump a pole position going into Super Tuesday. And at the center of this success was “McMullen Public Affairs”. 

For over a decade, the eponymous public consulting firm has played a central role in attracting top companies such as Boeing or Volvo to South Carolina. Pamela Lackey, president of AT&T (South Carolina) and former president of the state’s Chamber of Commerce, has known McMullen as a businessman for decades. Lackey describes him as an “extremely bright and smart person” and, like his champion in the White House, plain spoken. McMullen dispenses with business jargon, and tells it like it is. Says Lackey, “He is a fantastic communicator with a great business sense”. 

Ed Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation – a conservative think tank where McMullen was an executive in the 80s — points to McMullen’s fluency in both business and policy as unique qualifiers for the ambassadorial post. The Heritage founder tells “Die Weltwoche” that he is “enthusiastic” about the appointment. McMullen understands and shares the President’s pro-growth economic policy, and “is certainly aware of the unique and special relationship between the two countries” rooted in shared ideals. Feulner expects McMullen to be sympathetic to the federal structure of Switzerland, the cantons’ autonomy, and “Switzerland’s role as a truly independent nation in the middle of the European Union”. 

Feulner is confident that Swiss policy makers and business leaders will have an energetic partner in Trump’s emissary. He believes the relations between the two countries could even become as strong as “in their best times.” In his view, McMullen has the potential to become “a similarly transformational and successful ambassador as was Shelby Cullom Davies back in the seventies and as was Faith Whittlesey in the eighties.”

McMullen’s connection to Switzerland goes back 20 years. In 1995, he was one of the American Swiss Foundation’s (ASF) Young Leaders. ASF is an organization that dedicates itself to curating the relations between Switzerland and the US. Over the last decades, it has built an outstanding and powerful alumni network.  ASF alumnus, Grover Norquist — founder and president of the Washington-based advocacy organization, Americans for Tax Reform — who has known McMullen for years applauds him as a “true conservative”. He also points to McMullen’s pivotal role in the Trump campaign as proof that “Trump cares about Switzerland”. 

And for those in Switzerland who care about the US, McMullen’s close proximity and long standing ties to the president should be reassuring. 

McMullen was one of the very first people to learn about Trump’s presidential ambition back in 2015. When the campaign launched in earnest, Trump tapped McMullen to become his South Carolina chairman. McMullen was the third person hired for the campaign’s exploratory committee. After the historical success in the primary where the real estate mogul beat over a dozen primary rivals by ten points, Trump appointed “his” man from South Carolina to the transition team and vice chairman of the inaugural committee.  

Not only has McMullen been good for Trump, he’s been good for his fellow pols in South Carolina. A remarkable number of personalities from this southern state have been appointed to senior positions inside the Trump administration: Former governor Nikki Haley as US Ambassador to the UN; Mick Mulvaney as Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Senator Tim Scott and Representative Trey Gowdy on the transition team. It’s no coincidence. “A lot of that has to do with Ed”, South Carolina real estate developer Bill Stern, who is a friend of McMullen’s, tells “The State” daily newspaper. “Mr. Trump relies on him, calls him, has meetings with him.” 

But despite his position and influence in the inner circle, for a long time it appeared that McMullen was reticent about joining the new administration. As he put it to “The State”, “I told Mr. Trump two years ago: ‘As long as I do not have to move to D.C., I’ll help him any way I can.’”  

If all goes well, and McMullen clears the hurdle of Congressional hearings next month and gets approved by the Swiss Federal Council, the native New Yorker turned South Carolina power broker will be headed to the alpine republic. Ed McMullen is married and a father of two grown-up children.


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