Outsiders take power in Trump's Washington

People once confined to the political fringes will be at the center of power in Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE’s White House.


Liberals and even some moderate Republicans are shuddering at the prospect. But it is a source of delight among conservatives who believe the GOP establishment has drifted too far from its core principles.

Of the people tapped so far by President-elect Trump, only one — Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — is identified with the party’s mainstream. Priebus will be chief of staff in the Trump White House.

The other names tapped for important positions are outsiders, albeit to varying extents.

Former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon will be chief strategist, while Gen. Michael Flynn will be national security advisor.

Liberals accuse Breitbart of trafficking in racism, misogyny and bigotry, though Bannon vigorously denies that critique. Flynn has made a number of incendiary remarks about Islam, including asserting that fear of Muslims is “rational.”

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Trump hits Biden and Obama in defense of his golfing Biden swipes at Trump: 'Presidency is about a lot more than tweeting from your golf cart' MORE (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick to be attorney general, is perhaps the leading hardliner in the Senate on immigration, while his choice for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) is a staunch conservative who was among Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff MORE’s harshest critics over the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Pompeo opposes closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and has called Clinton’s tenure at the State Department “morally reprehensible.”

Sessions and Pompeo will require Senate confirmation to their positions, but Bannon and Flynn will not.

Democrats and others on the left are horrified by the transition that is unfolding. David Axelrod, a former key aide to President Obama, tweeted on Friday that Trump was “sticking with those who brought him to the dance but to many Americans, it will seem a Monster's Ball.”

A succession of liberal groups lined up to slam the picks, urging Democrats to fight tooth and nail in the Senate to prevent the nomination of Sessions, in particular. 

The NAACP said that the Alabaman’s nomination “supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values.”

Liberal icon Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPentagon charts its own course on COVID-19, risking Trump's ire Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-Mass.) issued a statement calling on Trump to rescind Sessions’s nomination. If he did not do so, she said, “it will fall to the Senate to exercise fundamental moral leadership for our nation and all of its people.”

Others on the left emphasized that their opposition to Trump’s picks went far beyond standard disagreements with an incoming Republican administration.

Isaiah Poole, communications director of People’s Action, a progressive group, said that the fear of the Trump administration was of “a whole different magnitude” than the concerns that might have been voiced if previous GOP nominees such as Mitt Romney or John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe 10 Senate seats most likely to flip What does Joe Biden believe about NASA, space exploration and commercial space? The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice MORE had won the presidency.

“What we are seeing is what I might call the Steve Bannonization, or the Breitbartization, of the federal government. There was a real question about whether we were going to see ‘Trump the pragmatist’ come out of hiding. The answer, based on these appointments, is clearly no.”

On the right, there is enthusiasm rather than concern. Some are delighted that Trump’s appointments suggest no trimming of his sails but, rather, a rededication to pursuing the policies that resonated with voters.

Perhaps none of those promises is so famous as the pledge to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico, and to crack down on illegal immigration more generally.

Trump insisted during his first major TV interview after the election — on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last weekend — that he would indeed build the wall, softening only in suggesting that some stretches of the border could be secured by fencing instead of concrete.

Activists opposed to illegal immigration are fired up about the Sessions pick.

“If there has been one voice in Congress that has really reflected the American public [on immigration], it has been Jeff Sessions,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. The group seeks to stop illegal immigration and reduce legal immigration to “levels consistent with the national interest.”

On the broader politics of Trump’s picks, Mehlman said, “The voters made their position very clear: they voted the establishment out of power. First, Trump decimated the Republican establishment and then he decimated the most establishment candidate the Democrats had picked in a long time.”

There is still time for the complexion of Trump’s administration to change, given how few positions have been filled so far. Senior adviser Jason Miller said on a Friday conference call Friday with reporters that the president-elect was seeking to staff his White House with “the best, brightest and most qualified” people, even if they had not supported him in the past.

Romney is expected to meet with Trump on Saturday. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department scrutiny threatens Pompeo's political ambitions 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Parties gear up for battle over Texas state House MORE (R-Texas), Trump’s fiercest competitor during the GOP primary, has already visited the transition headquarters in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, as has South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who endorsed another rival, Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Overwhelming majority of publicly traded firms have not returned small-business loans: review GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE.

But the wind is behind the pro-Trump, anti-establishment forces, as Haley acknowledged in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington on Friday.

"If we as Republicans are going to lead effectively and have staying power as a governing party, we must accept that Donald Trump's election was not an affirmation of the way Republicans have conducted themselves," she said.

“The president-elect deserves tremendous credit for the way he was able to connect with the electorate, but he did not do it by celebrating the Republican Party.”

Some centrist Republicans, for the moment at least, are insisting that they are not panicked by Trump’s choices to date — even as their words hint at some tension just below the surface.

Jim Walsh, a former GOP congressman from upstate New York, insisted that “by and large they are good appointments so far.” But Walsh added that, “I don’t really know anyone who knows what his operating principles will be. I suspect he will be conservative in some respects, and in some respects he won’t.”

Walsh added that, “I think the more he learns about the job, the more complex his policies will become.”

John Feehery, a Republican strategist who is also a columnist for The Hill, said he was “not freaking out” about any of the appointments so far. Instead, Feehery said, they showed that the president-elect was keeping faith with the voters who elected him.

“I don’t understand why anyone is surprised that he is picking the people who got him to the White House. This is what people do.”

Feehery added with a wry laugh, “If I were elected president, I maybe wouldn’t have picked some of these people. But I didn’t run."