DONALD TRUMP, Melania Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Taking over the federal government with two months’ notice is no easy task, but President-elect Donald Trump seems to be having a tougher go of it than most.
Because he chose to purge the leadership of his transition team shortly after his upset victory last week, its ability to work with the government came to an untimely halt. Over a week passed before the two sides re-signed a nondisclosure agreement to proceed with the sort of information sharing required to move forward.
As of Wednesday morning, Trump’s team had yet to reach out to the State Department or Defense Department officials ready and waiting to begin the laborious task of preparing the incoming administration – a process all the more daunting given Trump’s stated desire to hire policy novices.
Trump’s first hiring decision, to elevate Steve Bannon to chief White House strategist, has prompted two concerns. The first is that Trump believes Bannon and his new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, should have equal power in the West Wing – setting up the sort of turf war that presidents typically seek to avoid. The second is that Bannon is a self-avowed leader of the alt-right movement, a modern- day home for white nationalists, nativists and antisemites.
Trump is said to be looking primarily at loyalists to fill the top echelon of his government.
Problematically, this group of people is rather light on the foreign policy front: A large majority of those within the Republican national security establishment were early to the “Never Trump” movement and stayed true to their opposition through his election. While Trump may seek to build bridges with this community, early signs suggest he will take the opposite approach.
Former Bush administration officials who have met with the team describe Trump staff as arrogant after his victory and uninterested in hiring experts not in line with the president- elect’s unconventional worldview.
Trump is therefore left with a thin bench – without Democratic or Republican establishment figures at his disposal. He is thus looking to those who stuck by him to fill positions of tremendous weight and responsibility, including junior senators, rookies to governing and outsiders to the world of diplomacy for major cabinet positions.
As difficult as those positions may be to fill, they only represent a fraction of the work ahead for Trump’s staff. Over 4,000 political appointees must be vetted and hired before the real estate tycoon takes the oath of office on January 20.