DAILY SIGNAL: How Faith Guided This Trump Aide’s Time in Government

Cliff Sims had a front-row seat in the White House to some of President Donald Trump’s biggest decisions and helped craft the administration’s message to the American people.

As a special assistant to the president, Sims served as a key staffer in the White House communications office before later moving to a different role as deputy director of national intelligence for strategy and communications.

Along the way, Sims wrote a bestselling book, “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House.” And this month, he is now out with a new book, “The Darkness Has Not Overcome: Lessons on Faith and Politics from Inside the Halls of Power.”

Sims writes from the perspective of a Baptist minister’s son whose own Christian faith guided him during his time in the Trump administration. He spoke to The Daily Signal about the lessons he learned and his advice for Americans as they prepare to make a choice for our country’s future.

Rob Bluey: What inspired you to write “The Darkness Has Not Overcome”?

Cliff Sims: When I left the government, a lot of it was me wrestling with what that time period of my life meant for me, like, what were some of the things I could have learned from that experience, and I journaled a lot about it and was thinking a lot about it.

I realized through that process that a lot of the things that I could have learned I was learning, the takeaways that I had could apply to anybody’s life. No matter what they’re doing, they had to serve in government to have some takeaways from it.

I realized that there was an opportunity to write a book that told a bunch of cool stories from behind the scenes in the White House and CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Air Force One and all these different things, but use those to jump into biblical takeaways, faith takeaways that could apply to anybody’s life. So that was really what inspired me to write the book.

Bluey: Can you speak to your upbringing as the son of a Baptist minister and how that shaped your approach to faith and particularly politics during your time serving a government?

Sims: The subtitle for the book is “Lessons on Faith and Politics From Inside the Halls of Power.” But the first thing that people would need to know about me is that I come from about as far away from those halls of powers you could possibly imagine—lived in, grew up in a working-class family, working-class neighborhood. My dad was a Baptist minister and faith was an integral part of our lives. We’re in the church every time the doors were open.

But really my personal faith journey, I had a knowledge of the Bible that was more than a lot of my friends growing up. There’s no doubt about that, but it really had not had a heart change in me until later in life.

A lot of that kind of grit and determination from growing up in a working-class family I think I’ve applied to a lot of things I’ve done professionally. And really the moment in my life when—well, I guess there wasn’t a moment in my life that I could point to that’s like that’s when God changed my heart. Even though I certainly remember the moment that I accepted Christ, my savior, and things like that.

I learned a lot about the way that God changes people and it’s not the way that we think about it. We focus a lot on our actions. Any self-help podcast that you listen to, it focuses on actions. If you could just work out a little bit more. If you could just get up a little bit earlier. If you could just spend more time with your family. If you were a better networker, all these things and actions.

What I’ve learned in my own life is the way that God changes people is, like, I would call it like concentric circles. And at the center of that concentric circle is worship. I found in my life, I’ve worshiped my career, I’ve worshiped power, I’ve worshiped fame, I’ve worshiped money. I mean, go down the list of these things.

What you worship becomes what you think about. What you think about becomes your desires, and your desires become your actions. And what God did was he changed what I worshiped or who I worshiped. Once he was at the center of that Venn diagram, it changed the things that I think about and changed my desires and, ultimately, that changed my actions.

And the way that that manifested itself in serving in government is, I think, in retrospect, I struggled with a lot of things that I didn’t know that I would, such as like the attraction of power.

When you don’t have power, how do you know that you’re going to be susceptible to the attraction of power? But being able to lean back on my faith and look to Scripture for new challenges, things that I was struggling with that I never had to think about before, that biblical foundation helped me not lose myself in the process.

Bluey: I wanted to go back to something you said earlier, and that was that you found yourself growing up far from the halls of power. So did you ever imagine as a younger man that you would be serving the most powerful man in the world?

Sims: No, definitely not. I mean, that’s the thing about life in general is, like, all of us only know the universe that we’ve been exposed to. I mean, I had never met anybody who had money. How could I know what someone with money would do with money? I’d never met someone who’d served in the government. How would I know what people who walk the halls of power, so to speak, what they do, how they lived their lives?

I’d never in a million years would have imagined that. But I do remember the moment when I realized, in retrospect, that God was ordering my steps, that kind of the way that the trajectory of my life has gone on, that he was organizing all of that.

I was playing college basketball at a university in Mississippi, a buddy of mine was playing at a junior college in South Alabama, and I was thinking about wanting to transfer. My family was living in Florida at the time. I go and visit this tiny town called Enterprise, Alabama, which is most famous for having a monument to a bug in its downtown, to a boll weevil. It’s the only city in the country with a monument to a bug. It’s all I knew about it.

So, I go and visit and I really liked it. The team was good. I thought, “You know what,? I’m going to transfer here.” And the last thing I needed to do was call my dad and say, “Hey, I’m going to transfer.” And again, they were living in Florida at the time and I called my dad and said, “I’m going to transfer to this tiny school in Enterprise, Alabama.” And it was an awkward silence on the phone, and I said, “Well, is that OK?” And my dad said, “I was going to call you today and tell you that our family is moving to Enterprise, Alabama.”

My dad was a Baptist minister. His friend had become a pastor of a church in Enterprise and called him to be the executive pastor there. And so, my friend was a pastor of a church in Enterprise and called him to be the executive, was kind of reunited on coming from two separate tracks, and it’s like a moment in time where even the most fervent atheist would have a difficult time chalking that up to mere coincidence.

I remember it because at a time in my life where I didn’t care what God’s plan was for my life, he was already ordering his steps. And my Sunday school teacher, the day that I walked into Sunday school, the first day at our new town, was a guy named Barry Moore. Moore, who was a small business owner, but now he’s Congressman Barry Moore.

So, the first thing I did in politics in the 2010 election cycle was help to run Barry’s campaign. And six years later, I had an office in the West Wing. A lot of stuff happened in between there, but that’s kind of my journey in politics. Well, God’s plan for each of us is truly amazing.

Bluey: Thank you so much for sharing that, that story. Wow. Speaking of the West Wing, can you share a specific example from your time working there where you felt challenged in maintaining your Christian principles in this political environment in which we live?

Sims: There aren’t a lot of examples from the West Wing where there’s like a dramatic moment where it’s like, oh my gosh, I’m being asked to do something that is against my sincerely held beliefs.

I worked in the Trump White House and, fortunately, from a policy perspective, I was a fervent believer in a lot of things that we’re doing, what President Trump did from a policy perspective for the faith community—things like ending the “Mexico City policy,” funding with taxpayer resources abortions in foreign countries, or putting pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, or instructing the Department of Justice to no longer … go after the nonprofit status of faith-based nonprofits that speak into divisive political issues. I think you can go down the list of these things.

I think the wrestling with what serving in government meant for my faith or how my faith applied to that experience or where it was tested really has come more in retrospect. And I think the most direct example that I could give is the day that Joe Biden was inaugurated president, Jan. 20, 2021.

I was deputy director of national intelligence at the time, and I was standing alone in the nearly empty hallways of the CIA. And I was wandering those empty halls by myself because it was not just a transition moment for the country. I knew it was a transition moment for me, that this was going to be the last opportunity that I had to walk those halls, at least in the short term.

And I was wrestling with this nagging feeling that nothing that I will ever do in life will be this important. It’ll never be this big of a deal again. How could I ever find value in the work that I’m doing when it’s never going to be like this again? And, of course, that’s ego talking, but it’s also just wrong because what I learned through that process about work is that who we are working for is more important than what we are doing.

The Bible says whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord. And when you put work in its proper context—that whether I’m in the White House or in a coffee house I’m performing with excellence and there is meaning to it because I’m serving God in my work—your work becomes an overflow of worship. And that’s a totally different way of looking at work.

So, I think the way to answer your question that my faith was tested was, I was in what C.S. Lewis would call the inner ring. I had access to power and influence and things that test your character. Only in retrospect was I able to come to terms with that is not what defines me. I’m not defined by the title that I have. The fact that my phone quit ringing when I left because people didn’t like me, they were calling me because of the title that I had. I had to come to terms with that.

Going through that and wrestling with that, I’ve been able to put my work, my career, in a much better, more biblical context.

Bluey: There’s so much in our culture that happens outside of government and politics, but obviously, 2024 is a big year. There’s a lot of focus on elections, not only at the national level, but local level. How much is at stake when it comes to the future of our country and the direction we go when it comes to electing leaders?

Sims: Every single election cycle, it feels like we say, “Well, this is the most important election of our lifetimes.” And it’s like, well, in retrospect, some of these elections were not as important as others. Let’s just be honest about them.

But this is another moment where I think we are at a real crossroads as a country and deciding kind of what to do, what direction we’re going to go. Are we going to go the path of limited government, more human freedom and flourishing? Are we going to go the path of bigger government, more intervention in our daily lives where the government does play a meaningful role in our daily lives here? Which I don’t want to happen.

On every single issue from foreign affairs—right now you’re seeing just mayhem in every corner of the world. From the Middle East to Eastern Europe to China’s breathing down Taiwan’s neck in Southeast Asia, foreign affairs to economics, where you’re going to have a decision and people aren’t thinking about early next year. We’re going to have to re-up the tax cuts that came for from the Trump presidency. Are we going to do that or we’re going to have to be more taxed and more regulated? All these different issues.

So, I do believe this is one of those elections that we’ll look back on and say that that was a really, really important election.

Bluey: What is one of the things that you hope readers take away from the book, especially those who may be feeling discouraged or disillusioned by the current state of politics and society today?

Sims: Thank you for asking that. I mean, I’ll go back to the title of the book, “The Darkness Has Not Overcome.”

It comes from the Gospel of John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is a promise from Scripture that we can lean on, even in the darkest of times, that Scripture makes it clear the good guys win. Again, we can skip to the end. End of the book: The good guys win.

It’s hard not to be discouraged at the moment. We have work to do, and we need to do everything that we can to spread the Gospel and fight for policies that we believe in government.

All these different things are very important. But even in the darkest times, we can lean on that promise that the darkness will not overcome this, that we have a hope that is bigger than our politics and it’s found in our relationship with God.

Bluey: I’m so glad the book is doing well. I encourage our Daily Signal listeners to pick up a copy wherever books are sold or online. Thank you so much for writing it and sharing your experiences and advice with us today.

Sims: Rob, thanks for having me. I love The Heritage Foundation, love The Daily Signal. Love everything that you guys do. It’s an honor to be on with you.

Photo courtesy of Cliff Sims.

The post How Faith Guided This Trump Aide’s Time in Government appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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