Political Patronage

by Ed Sawicki
updated November 15, 2019

You may be able to get an idea of a presidential administration's desire to put country ahead of party and politics by its political patronage. This article lists recent administrations and the percentages of their ambassador nominations of career diplomats versus political patronage.

There are two kinds of people who become ambassadors: career diplomats and political appointees.

Career diplomats

These people made diplomacy their career. They've been trained to be diplomats. They are usually more effective at the job.

Political appointments

Such appointments usually reward people who contributed large amounts of money to a president's campaign. These people do not necessarily know anything about diplomacy. They could seek the position in order to influence foreign governments for the benefit of companies they have an interest in.

This table shows the number of appointments made by recent presidents and the percentage of career diplomats they appointed - a higher percentage is better. The data comes from the American Foreign Service Association:

PresidentAppts  Career
Gerald Ford 97 62
Jimmy Carter 20274
Ronald Reagan 42062
George HW Bush21468
Bill Clinton 41772
George W Bush 46068
Barak Obama 41670
Donald Trump 18961

Trump appointments

Trump's appointments are odd for a few reasons. Other than Gerald Ford, who served less that a full term as president, Trump has appointed the fewest number of diplomats. He's made no appointments to Canada and Japan who are traditional allies. He's made no appointments to countries that are either close to or border Russia, such as Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Albania, and Belarus.

Many of his nominations were made in 2019 - over two years after he took office. This indicates that he places little importance in diplomacy.

William B. Taylor Jr., who is testifying at Trump's impeachment, is the Acting Ambassador to Ukraine. He was appointed to the role of chargé d'affaires for Ukraine when Trump removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on May 20, 2019.


American Foreign Service Association Ambassador tracker

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