Trump’s tumultuous transition to power
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team was embroiled in turmoil this week, as his efforts to fill Cabinet and other key positions were slowed by infighting, firings, and confusion. Trump began the hiring process by naming Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, his campaign CEO and the executive chairman of the alt-right website Breitbart News, as chief strategist—an appointment that 169 outraged House Democrats demanded he rescind. Trump had earlier replaced Gov. Chris Christie as head of his transition team with incoming Vice President Mike Pence—a power play thought to have been orchestrated by the president-elect’s influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose father Christie jailed during his time as a U.S. attorney. At least four other transition officials brought in by Christie were purged, including former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers.
Trump was focusing on a number of loyalists for his Cabinet appointments. Rudy Giuliani was the leading contender to be Secretary of State, despite revelations that the former New York mayor did legal, lobbying, and consultancy work for Qatar, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and an Iranian exile group. Sen. Jeff Sessions, a hard-liner on immigration and a foreign-policy hawk, was also under consideration for that role, as well as for attorney general. The president-elect took to Twitter to attack the media for reporting that the transition was chaotic, insisting that the recruitment process was “very organized,” adding, “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
After his election win, Trump held talks with President Obama at the White House—praising the outgoing commander-in-chief as a “very good man” whose counsel he would seek. He also spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the two agreeing to work on repairing “unsatisfactory” Russian-American relations and forging a possible Syrian peace deal. In a TV interview, the president-elect said he wanted to preserve key parts of the Affordable Care Act (see Talking Points), and said that part of his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall could be “fencing.” He also reiterated his pledge to appoint a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court.
What the editorials said
Trump staked his campaign on the premise that his brilliant business acumen “will make him a better president than any politician,” said The New York Times. But as the manager of a vast federal government, he already seems in over his head. The president-elect needs to fill about 4,000 key government positions, with 1,270 requiring Senate confirmation hearings. Yet he has packed his transition team with “family, friends, and hacks”—not to mention the lobbyists and big donors he promised he’d get rid of—and seems content to let them fight one another for power and influence. Priebus was a sound choice because of his strong ties to congressional Republicans, said The Boston Globe, but Bannon “doesn’t belong within 10 miles of the White House.” A profane bully once accused of assaulting his second wife, the former Goldman Sachs banker has turned Breitbart.com into a white nationalist swamp of “racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.”
Bannon’s association with unsavory “white identity grievance politics” does deserve “a watchful eye,” said The Wall Street Journal. But Bannon may simply serve to remind Trump that his election began as a rebellion against Washington. At the same time, the vague lines of responsibility between Priebus and Bannon are troubling. “It will lead to a mess of leaking dysfunction if they divide into competing factions.”
Trump is setting up an administration mired in unprecedented conflicts of interest, said the Los Angeles Times. The presidentelect has “borrowed from a web of lenders”—including the Bank of China and Russian investors—and his many real estate assets here and abroad will all be affected by the decisions he makes as president. Putting his children in charge of the business won’t solve those problems. To avoid “the appearance of impropriety,” he needs to release his tax returns, reveal all foreign holdings and loans, and put the Trump Organization in a proper blind trust.
What the columnists said
Despite being a vocal Never-Trumper, I urged national security officials to serve in the president-elect’s administration for the good of the country, said former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen in The Washington Post. “One talk with his team changed my mind.” Trump is surrounding himself with “mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty,” and the scandals and mistakes that will ensue from the Trump administration will be “exceptional.”
Trump’s presidency may unleash “a GOP-led spending spree,” said Ben Weyl in Politico.com. Topping his agenda are a $550 billion infrastructure plan and “enormous tax cuts for businesses and individuals.” But his first move on Inauguration Day will be “the reversal of Obama-era executive orders,” said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. “Republican lawyers have spent the past year and a half” preparing to undo directives on issues including immigration and climate change.” But if he reverses Obama’s limited amnesty for children whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally, does Trump really want to begin his presidency by deporting thousands of kids? “If he governs as he campaigned, Trump will smash our country into a thousand shards of bitterness.”
By setting the bar so low, “the liberal media is setting Trump up to succeed,” said Liz Peek in FoxNews.com. They’re continuing to portray him as a “vile, erratic, destructive loon,” so when he and the Republican Congress push through major changes, the American people will be pleasantly surprised. Actually, Trump may find he has promised too much, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. He once told his supporters he would “make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true”—but as experienced politicians know, big policy decisions require lots of tradeoffs, and never please everyone. “If Trump is going to be a successful president—and I hope he is one—he will have to start disappointing his biggest fans.”