What the candidates didn't say about Cabinet appointees or the transition period

One year from now, our long election campaign will be over and the much less glamorous work of the presidential transition will begin. Despite the importance of this period — when thousands of policy, personnel and organizational decisions are made — there was no mention of it in the Republican debate last night. While we do know that Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump's Texas endorsement boosts a scandal-plagued incumbent while imperiling a political dynasty Trio of Senate Republicans urges Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia MORE (Texas) would double-down on closing the Commerce Department, we don't know whether former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.) would overhaul the Department of Energy, how Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (Fla.) would evaluate candidates to be the next secretary of Agriculture or in which ways Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE would wield executive orders to quickly overturn Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


There are reasons why we didn't hear about the transition period during the debate, mainly due to candidates' concerns of being accused of presumptuousness. Candidates who admit to planning for victory prior to Election Night are routinely accused of prematurely "measuring the drapes" of the White House.

Despite these worries, we know from past transitions that serious candidates start planning early. President George W. Bush had already tasked a close ally with developing a list of potential appointees before voting in Iowa and New Hampshire commenced. Transition planning occurs secretively until far into the election, offering few opportunities to investigate the details of what each candidate would do once in office. This secrecy is unnecessary and potentially harmful if it limits important information that voters could use to evaluate the candidates.

One issue of particular importance confronting each candidate over the next year is who exactly they want by their side if they win. Since at least 1992, the diversity of the Cabinet and White House staff has drawn attention during the transition period. During his transition, President-elect Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFor families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football Anything-but-bipartisan 1/6 commission will seal Pelosi's retirement. Here's why Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE appointed four African-Americans and two Hispanic Americans to his Cabinet, which included a record three women; George W. Bush appointed two African-Americans, two Asian-Americans and one Hispanic American to his Cabinet, which included three women. President-elect Obama named three Asian-Americans, two Hispanic Americans (not including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who withdrew his nomination as secretary of Commerce) and one African-American to the Cabinet during his transition; five positions in his Cabinet were held by women. 

In 2016, the eventual winner of the campaign will confront these precedents, but also an even more impressive record of diversity to the north. The newly elected prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has named a cabinet with equal numbers of women and men, as well as three Sikh officials.

Though they may not have mentioned Canada in the debate last night, we can hope each candidate has started to consider how they too would govern with the help of a group that fully represents the nation and reflects the diverse talents of its most qualified leaders.

Brown is an assistant professor of public policy at the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement, published this year by Praeger.