Trump’s Cabinet: Disagreeing with the boss
If you’d heard the hysterical warning that President Trump was about to usher in a “dark night of fascist conformity,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, you had to be heartened by Senate confirmation hearings on his Cabinet nominees. The big takeaway was “how often the nominees disagreed” with the man who nominated them. Retired Gen. James Mattis, the defense secretary nominee, warned that “we will have to confront Russia” in many areas, insisted that the U.S. alliance with NATO was vital, and recommended that the Iran nuclear deal remain in place—views completely at odds with Trump’s public statements. Former Exxon Mobil boss Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee, told senators he believes in climate change and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the nominee for CIA chief, said he would “absolutely not” use torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. Clearly, Trump hasn’t nominated yes-men, said Ed Rogers in Washington Post.com. He picked “opinionated, strong-willed leaders” who should be able to keep him in check.
There’s reason to buy into that optimism, said Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. Trump is attached to most of his unorthodox policy stances “by the thinnest of filaments,” so he should be “susceptible to convincing.” But we mustn’t forget the senior staff who haven’t had to undergo confirmation hearings: Stephen Bannon, the nationalist former Breitbart.com supremo who’ll serve as chief strategist, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s fiery, Russia-friendly choice for national security adviser. Both men will spend more time with the president than any other Cabinet members—and “their records suggest they’ll inflame Trump’s worst instincts, not restrain them.” Besides, the new president tends to “lash out, viciously, at anyone who dares to contradict him,” said Zach Beauchamp in Vox.com. Does anyone expect him to treat Mattis, Tillerson, and other subordinates any differently?
Trump insisted he wanted his picks “to be themselves” and “express their own thoughts, not mine,” said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. But how does that work in practice? Cabinet secretaries can be overruled, and it’ll likely be a “noisy first year as the new team hashes out exactly what President Trump wants to do.” How they’ll influence and get along with their unpredictable boss is anyone’s guess. But “boy, will their memoirs be worth reading.”