President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s transition is off to a tumultuous start.
The candidate who won the White House as the consummate political outsider now must prove his competence in governing — first by staffing his administration so that it can take over the government seamlessly on Jan. 20.
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Reports of internal friction and disorganization are widespread. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was unceremoniously deposed as the head of the transition effort in favor of incoming Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence posts, deletes photo of Trump campaign staff without face masks, not social distancing Pence threatens to deploy military if Pennsylvania governor doesn’t quell looting Pence on Floyd: ‘No tolerance for racism’ in US MORE, for example.
And there have been more arcane problems too, including an apparent delay in Pence signing an important memorandum of understanding, a problem that temporarily curbed the Obama administration’s capacity to cooperate with the Trump team.
Trump and his supporters insist that the reported problems are either overblown or non-existent. In their minds, trouble is being stoked by a news media hostile to the president-elect and resentful of his victory.
“I don’t hold the media in very high regard,” said Carl Paladino, who served as a New York state co-chairman of Trump’s campaign and previously ran for governor of the Empire State. “They make stuff up. Nobody is reading it. There is going to be a Trump transition whether the media likes it or doesn’t like it.”
But Democrats, shell-shocked by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s loss to Trump a little more than a week ago, have seized on the reports of discord as evidence that they were right all along in arguing that the president-elect is unprepared for the job.
“Trump’s more than messy transition” was the subject line on an email sent to reporters by the Democratic National Committee Wednesday, which gathered together various media reports indicating that a state of turmoil had gripped the president-elect’s headquarters in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
Transitions are never seamless.
Eight years ago, President Obama confessed to NBC News that he had “screwed up” after former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew from consideration as his secretary of Health And Human Services over his failure to fully pay his taxes.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), Obama’s first choice for Commerce secretary, also withdrew, amid an investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors. The next choice for that job, former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), dropped out after having a change of heart about serving in the Obama administration. (Gregg is now a columnist for The Hill.)
Former President Clinton had his troubles too. Most infamously, two successive nominees for attorney general, Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood, were withdrawn from consideration after it emerged that they had paid illegal immigrants to work as nannies.
Yet those controversies resonated little beyond the Beltway class that fixates on who is up and who is down in a new administration.
In Obama’s case, the new president had other strengths to draw on — sky-high approval ratings in his early days — and other concerns on which to dwell, including a once-in-a-generation financial crisis.
Trump faces different and unique challenges.
He is a president-elect who was the most disliked major-party nominee of modern times, and whose victory drew protestors onto the streets of several major cities. He also lost the popular vote to Clinton, a point his critics have used to question his legitimacy.
Some independent experts suggest that the level of chaos around his campaign is of a different order of magnitude than of his immediate predecessors.
At the same time, they note another factor that could help Trump: His supporters may not be all that concerned.
“The transition to the presidency is always fraught with tensions and looks chaotic,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “But it is usually a chaos in which a president-elect who has been in national public life, maybe for decades, is choosing between and among other recognized public figures.”
Paladino insisted there was nothing untoward about the way the Trump transition has begun, and that it differs from previous efforts only because of the businessman’s determination not to employ tired old names to populate his administration.
“I don’t see any disorganization,” Paladino insisted. “What I see is that people are submitting their applications. I think Mr. Trump wanted a different set of people. He didn’t want Washington lobbyists. And apparently there was something happening with the Christie people. But that doesn’t mean the grunts aren’t doing the work.”
Trump had never sought public office before winning the presidency. While some potential nominees are political veterans — Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants MORE (R-Ala.), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton among them — Trump has also appointed controversial former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as a senior adviser.
Much media attention has also been trained on the likely role to be played by Trump’s adult children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. On Twitter, Trump pushed back against reports that he had sought top-level security clearance for his children, insisting this amounted to “a typically false news story.”
Trump’s uniqueness is underlined by the way he ran an insurgent campaign against much of his party’s establishment. He also mocked many of his rivals, and their supporters, in unusually personal terms.
Now, Washington is watching whether he will reach out to those erstwhile enemies. One such rival, Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE (R), was spotted at Trump Tower on Tuesday, although it is not clear whether he is under consideration for a position with the administration.
Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” tweeted on Wednesday that Trump had “spent the past several days reaching out to political figures who opposed him in the Republican primary to fill major positions.” Scarborough also suggested that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who backed Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Georgia officials launch investigation after election day chaos | Senate report finds Chinese telecom groups operated in US without proper oversight Republican Senators ask FCC to ‘clearly define’ when social media platforms should receive liability protections Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash MORE (Fla.) during the GOP primary, was under consideration as secretary of State.
Whether that proves true or not, one thing is clear: Where Trump is concerned, there is no such thing as normal.
“Everything is abnormal about this campaign and now this transition,” said Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer.