The Memo: Trump prizes loyalty over experience in Cabinet

The Memo: Trump prizes loyalty over experience in Cabinet
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE’s penchant for making unconventional picks to fill senior positions is once again on full display.

On Wednesday, he announced that he would nominate the White House physician, Ronny Jackson, to replace David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinFormer Trump VA secretary says staffer found plans to replace him in department copier VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Jackson, who served President Obama as well as Trump, has no significant experience managing a large organization. The VA has an annual budget of around $180 billion and well over 300,000 employees.

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Trump’s approach to appointments, which often seems to put loyalty and personal chemistry ahead of experience, extends far beyond Jackson.

Voters who backed Trump elected him despite his own lack of Washington experience, choosing to trust his business background and gut instincts. Trump seems to be taking the same approach with many of his appointments.

Earlier this month, he chose Larry Kudlow to replace Gary CohnGary David CohnSunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Gary Cohn says Trump's tariffs 'hurt the US' Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE as chief economic adviser. 

Kudlow’s main focus in recent years has been as a television commentator, though he does come from a business background as a former chief economist for Bear Stearns. That experience, however, dates back more than 20 years. 

Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonAid restrictions sideline Puerto Rican civil society Trump administration ending delay on over B in Puerto Rico disaster aid HUD to roll back Obama-era housing desegregation rule MORE, a neurosurgeon and former rival to Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has little evident experience in the areas within his purview as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His tenure has been marked by a number of controversies.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosAmerican Federation of Teachers sues DeVos over repeal of for-profit regulations Pressley says she 'would welcome the opportunity' to educate DeVos after abortion, slavery comparison DeVos compares pro-choice to being pro-slavery MORE has been deeply involved in the promotion of charter schools over orthodox public schools for years, but has never before held public office. That inexperience has been exposed on occasion, most recently in an awkward CBS “60 Minutes” interview.

These stumbles have strengthened critics’ convictions that Trump is failing to hire “the best people,” as he famously promised.

“One thing that has always been valued in a White House — except for perhaps this one — is real qualifications and real experience,” said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron and the author of a book on presidential chiefs of staff. “President Trump doesn’t really seem to pay attention to those things."

It is, to be sure, easy to oversimplify Trump’s hiring style, and its effects.

Experience doesn’t always lead to success. Donald Rumsfeld was seen as a successful chief of staff to President Ford. His tenure at the Pentagon during the Iraq War was viewed very differently.

While critics complain of Trump’s unorthodox, inexperienced picks, some of his most conventional choices have not exactly covered themselves in glory either. 

Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerPress: It's time to bring back White House briefings Rapid turnover shapes Trump's government Pelosi gets under Trump's skin on impeachment MORE, his first press secretary, was basically an emissary from the GOP establishment to the Trump insurgents who had won the White House — but his tenure was characterized by memorable missteps.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Isakson talks up bipartisanship in Senate farewell speech Hundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia MORE, another popular pick with conservatives inside the Beltway as Secretary of Health and Human Services, resigned after spending around $400,000 on chartered flights and other travel expenses.

Similarly, Trump supporters would argue that media coverage of the tumult that has affected his administration fails to acknowledge those figures who have performed competently: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyIs Mike Pence preparing to resign, assume the presidency, or both? Judd Apatow urges Georgia voters to get rid of Doug Collins after 'terrorists' comment Nikki Haley: Democratic leadership, 2020 Dems are the only people mourning Soleimani death MORE is often mentioned, as is Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE.

But there is no doubt that Trump has been prone to out-of-the-box appointments from the start — for better and for worse. 

This week sees the departure of Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksTrump must be removed — for more than reasons offered in impeachment 2019 in Photos: 35 pictures in politics Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe MORE as his communications director. She has been by his side since the start of his outsider bid for the presidency, and had never previously worked on a political campaign. 

Hicks’s exit is a source of genuine sadness inside the West Wing. 

A very different reaction was produced when Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanThe Memo: Impeachment's scars cut deep with Trump, say those who know him Author of anonymous 'resistance' NYT op-ed to publish book Juan Williams: Black Republicans call out Trump — finally — on race MORE, a former contestant on the Trump-fronted NBC series “The Apprentice,” was ousted from her post late last year in the White House Office of Public Liaison. 

Much media coverage of Trump’s personnel picks has focused on his fondness of people from the television world. But backers and critics of the president alike caution against painting with too broad a brush.

Some note, for example, that State Department spokeswoman and acting under-secretary of State Heather Nauert is generally seen as having acquitted herself well — despite some harsh coverage when she was first appointed that sneered at her history as a Fox News anchor.

Others bridle about the emphasis given to John Bolton’s frequent appearances on the same cable network. 

They note that, whether or not one agrees with the hawkish foreign policy stance of Trump’s pick to be his third national security adviser, Bolton has a history of government service that dates back decades.

Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee and a frequent Trump critic, said that “a lot of folks” had been critical of Trump’s fondness for TV commentators.

“When it is Omarosa, it is an absolutely valid point,” he said. “But having people in important positions able to well-articulate their positions? I think that’s a good thing.”

A Republican strategist with ties to the White House drew a distinction between Bolton and other choices, however. 

“Larry Kudlow has been a television commentator for what feels like decades,” the source said, “I think it is an open question whether he is qualified to handle his position — and we’ll soon find out.”

Others take an even more sharply negative view, arguing that Trump prizes loyalty above all else, to his own detriment.

“If any president in our modern era truly needed people to speak truth to power, it’s this president, because he comes into the job with so little experience,” said Cohen. “Unfortunately, I don’t think he is really interested in learning.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.