Trump’s unorthodox Cabinet


President-elect Donald Trump is putting together an unorthodox team — and that’s just fine with many conservatives.

In the wake of the election, speculation had focused on whether Trump’s personnel choices would be drawn from the GOP establishment or from people antagonistic toward it.

But he seems to have found a middle ground of sorts. While his picks are not anti-establishment in any real sense, it’s also hard to imagine many of them being nominated for similar positions by Mitt Romney or John McCain, had they won the White House.

“That’s true, sure — and that’s what a lot of conservatives like about it!” said Hogan Gidley, a GOP strategist who has worked for leading figures on the right of the party, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee during his 2016 presidential bid and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s White House campaign four years before.

{mosads}Trump has chosen several people who have records of accomplishment in the business world or the armed forces but whose ideology — if any is discernible — is firmly within the parameters of conservative thought.

Among the politicians he has chosen, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s picks to lead the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively, are positioned in a sweet spot for the president-elect. They are on the right side of the party and popular with the conservative grassroots, without being so far out on the fringe as to give their fellow GOP lawmakers heartburn. 

Broadly speaking, Gidley said, conservatives are happy that the people selected by Trump can be seen as “antithetical not just to Hillary Clinton but to what Mitt Romney or John McCain would have done. Because they would have gone back to the bureaucratic trough and tried the same old retreads we have tried in several administrations.”  

To conservatives, already buoyed by the fact that Trump won the election in the first place, nominations such as Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education bolster their faith that real change is coming. DeVos, a wealthy GOP donor, is a vigorous critic of public schools and an equally emphatic supporter of school vouchers and charter schools.

Larry Schweikart, a conservative history professor and the co-author of “A Patriot’s History of the United States,” said that there were several Trump Cabinet selections who would “not in a million years” have gotten the nod from a more centrist GOP president.

“This goes back to the fact that DeVos and some of these others are people who actually want to effect change. It looks like Rick Perry will be Energy secretary. This is a guy who wanted to abolish the Department of Energy. … These are terrific choices! They are so in-your-face to the media and to the Democrats.” 

Democrats would at least agree with Schweikart about the horror they feel at many of Trump’s choices. DeVos, Perry and Pruitt all have opinions that seem to conflict with the mission of the departments they have been named to lead, at least to liberal eyes.  

Two retired generals, James Mattis and John Kelly, are set to join Trump’s Cabinet, and a third even more controversial military figure, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, will be his national security adviser. Together, those appointments give skeptics concern about the wall of separation between military command and political power being eroded.

But there are plenty of other areas where Trump’s picks, though unconventional, are hardly outside the Republican mainstream. Steven Mnuchin, who served as finance chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign, would probably not have been on any other candidate’s shortlist for Treasury secretary. But he’s hardly an out-and-out insurgent either — he’s a former partner at Goldman Sachs. 

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of State announced on Tuesday, has no political experience at all. But it takes a big stretch of the imagination to consider him an anti-establishment figure, particularly given his experience hobnobbing with world leaders at the oil giant.  

Tillerson did win the State position over much more establishment choices, notably Romney himself, as well as retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director. But he is also seen by some as more inclined to stay between the lines than other options Trump was considering, such as Rudy Giuliani, the idiosyncratic former mayor of New York City, who publicly lobbied for the role but later withdrew from consideration. 

Even as Democrats and liberals prepare to fight rearguard actions against nominees they believe will gut the federal government and lay waste to important safeguards, conservatives are cheering Trump on. 

“You can make a case that this will be the most conservative Cabinet in history,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, who writes for The Hill’s Contributors blog. “Some of the business titans in there might be seen as establishment but they are actually experienced and outsiders. … There is a lot here for conservatives to be excited about.” 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions John McCain
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