The speculation surrounding Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks has become America’s latest reality TV show — a much-watched spectacle playing out on cable TV and in the lobby of Trump Tower as the president-elect parades his contenders before the public. It’s like a beauty pageant or “The Bachelor,” leaving everyone to speculate who’ll receive the final rose.
Adding to the drama is Team Trump.
Advisers to the incoming president have taken to the cable airwaves and Twitter to offer their own opinions on whom the boss should select.
RealClearPolitics’ Caitlin Huey-Burns examined the spectacle surrounding the secretary of state pick, a position with added weight this year since the person holding the office will represent America to a world skeptical of the president it just elected. Suddenly, Mitt Romney is the great hope of Democrats, journalists and foreign leaders who had little use for him when he tried in 2012 to deny President Barack Obama a second term. “If Trump taps Romney,” wrote Frank Bruni in The New York Times, “he’ll be sending a powerful message to an anxious world that he’s not hostage to the darkest parts of his character.”
Yet because of the many harsh things Romney said about Trump during the campaign, the former Massachusetts governor came in for a good deal of needling. After the candidate went to a posh steak dinner with Trump, complete with chocolate cake for desert, John Cassidy of The New Yorker puckishly observed that Romney worked off the excess calories by energetically “groveling” before the president-elect.
“So, Romney wants to be secretary of state more than he hates Trump,” wrote Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. “It’s that simple a calculation.”
If any of this bothered Trump, he hid it well. Outwardly, at least, the man seemed to be enjoying the show.
“Donald Trump’s search for his secretary of state offers the drama, intrigue and rigmarole of a reality television program,” wrote Huey-Burns. “Call it ‘America’s Next Top Diplomat.’ It’s a show the rest of the world is watching closely, as the winner will have the extraordinary task of representing a president who suggests he'll deviate from conventional American foreign policy and shuffle global alliances. The theatrics emphasize the challenge facing the next chief foreign affairs officer in what figures to be an unconventional and, at times, chaotic administration.”
It’s fitting that a reality-TV star who won the highest office in the land through dramatic speeches and controversial tweets is setting up his government the same way.
RCP’s Rebecca Berg and Huey-Burns dove into this unwieldy transition process, reporting that “Trump’s transition to the White House has been lively and unpredictable — marked by Twitter rants, strategic detours and internal disputes spilling into public view. These hallmark quirks are now weightier in the context of the White House, however, with less than two months until the start of Trump’s presidency. If a transition process can suggest the flavor of the administration to come, many political professionals now predict a wildly unconventional White House at the highest levels, with a tinge of chaos.”
Trump is known to closely watch cable news, caring about the opinions of the chattering class. And his advisers seem to recognize that, going on the shows to try to influence him. These maneuvers by Team Trump, along with other problems — such as his staff saying there would be no more Cabinet picks announced this week, only to have Trump, a few days later, reveal his choice to head the Department of Defense — indicate a disconnect between the president-elect and his staff.
There has been talk of infighting and rivalries among his “Team of Rivals,” with incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on one side and Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon on the other. It shows a president-elect who seems to thrive on conflict and likes to keep even his own team guessing.
RCP is tracking all the Cabinet selections and the speculation about who is up for which job — and what will happen when the nominees go before the Senate for confirmation.
Republicans control the upper chamber, but RCP’s James Arkin looks at the problems Democrats can create during the confirmation process. He writes that the Democrats’ “goal is threefold: to convince moderate Republicans to buck their party, which could help Democrats block some nominees; to create a proxy war over policy proposals, including Trump’s hard-line immigration stance or congressional Republicans’ plans for changes to Medicare; and to drive a wedge between Trump, his nominees and congressional Republicans on some issues where they disagree.”
There’s also a battle brewing on Capitol Hill over Trump’s business interests and potential conflicts with his administration, Arkin reports: “Democrats are already calling for hearings and investigations into Donald Trump’s expansive business empire and potential conflicts of interest as he prepares to take office, but Republicans are urging caution, pledging to give Trump time to sort out his commercial enterprises and separate them from his governance.”
But this highlights the tough position Democrats find themselves in, being the minority party in both houses of Congress to a Republican president. Democrats can kick up a fuss, but how much they can actually do remains an open question.
One thing Democrats did not do was switch their leadership. In the House, Nancy Pelosi won re-election to serve an eighth term as her party’s leader. But 63 Democrats voted against her, showing cracks in a caucus she has long controlled.