President-elect Donald Trump has recruited people to lead his government who can be roughly grouped into categories: the disrupters, the dealmakers, the loyalists, the establishment and the generals.
They are President-elect Donald Trump’s disrupters.
Seven men and one woman named by Trump to run vast government agencies share a common trait: Once they are confirmed, their presence is meant to unnerve — maybe even undermine — the bureaucracies they are about to lead.
Some of those chosen — 17 picks so far for federal agencies and five for the White House — are among the most radical selections in recent history. Other presidents’ nominees, even when controversial, were often veterans of the Washington bureaucracy and generally believed in it. But a number of Trump’s most important selections have no experience in federal government and have a great drive to undo it.
Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma state attorney general who was picked to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), rejects the established science of human-caused climate change and has built his career on fighting environmental regulations. At the Education Department, Betsy DeVos wants to steer government money away from traditional public schools. Rick Perry was picked to head the Energy Department — unless he eliminates it, as he once promised.
Politics podcastAre you a politics junkie? Just want to keep up with what’s going on in government? Don’t miss The Overcast, our politics team’s weekly podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, TuneIn or via RSS. Find and listen to past episodes here.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, the conservative Republican who was chosen as White House budget director, refused to back the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit and helped to bring the United States to the brink of default.
“Donald Trump ran to make the governing people uncomfortable,” said Andrew Card Jr., who served as chief of staff to former President George W. Bush and as transportation secretary for Bush’s father. “He clearly picked people to lead some of these departments who will be challenging to the insiders.”
As Trump finishes announcing his choices for Cabinet and senior White House aides, a picture is emerging of an administration with little ideological cohesion and no single animating purpose. They are neither all conservative, nor all liberal. They are not all insiders or outsiders. Some have known Trump for years. Others met him in the weeks since he was elected.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- After Roe, architect of Texas abortion law sets sights on gay marriage and more
- Kamala Harris could break a record. Democrats wish she didn't have to
- Parade shooting suspect bought 5 weapons despite threats
- Bezos lashes out at Biden over call for lowering of gas prices
- As some Democrats grow impatient with Biden, alternative voices emerge
Instead, Trump has recruited people to lead his government who can be roughly grouped into categories. Along with the disrupters, there are the dealmakers, the loyalists, the establishment and the generals.
Trump’s administration so far reflects the people who worked for and advised him during the campaign. It is mostly men, and mostly white. Many of his picks are extraordinarily rich, though not all. Loyalty is at a premium — except when it isn’t. (Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national-security adviser, was an early supporter who was rewarded. Todd Ricketts, who may become deputy commerce secretary, was a leader of the “Never Trump” movement.)
There is “no overarching theory,” said Pete Wehner, who was deputy director of speechwriting for Bush and a fierce critic of Trump during the campaign. “He’s not being driven by the usual impulses, which would be policy or ideology or political philosophy.” A look at the groups:
Few things made Trump’s campaign supporters roar with approval more than when he hammered the “political class in Washington,” telling people at his rallies that the government had betrayed them, and vowing that change was coming.
At many agencies, it may soon arrive. In addition to DeVos, Pruitt, Perry and Mulvaney, the disrupters include Ben Carson, chosen to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Andrew Puzder as labor secretary; Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to oversee the Health and Human Services Department (HHS); and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general.
The disrupters appear to have been picked in part for their ability to shake up the normal course of business at their agencies.
Sessions, whose 1986 nomination as a federal judge was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate because of testimony from colleagues that he was a racist, is likely to push for wholesale changes at the Justice Department by imposing conservative positions on immigration, terrorism, crime, drugs and guns. He is almost certain to reverse Obama-era efforts to confront civil-rights violations, sentencing disparities and police abuses.
Carson, a retired surgeon who has no experience in housing or running a large government agency, has put housing advocates on notice that he does not think much of current programs for the poor. Puzder, who owns fast-food chains and is opposed to raising the minimum wage, is a longtime critic of his department’s approach. Price, who waged a crusade against the Affordable Care Act in Congress, could soon be in a position at HHS to lead the drive to repeal and replace it.
Trump demonstrated his desire for a disruptive force when he named Pruitt to head the nation’s top environmental agency. While saying that his administration “strongly believes in environmental protection,” Trump previewed the kind of change he is looking for.
“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs,” he said, adding that Pruitt “will reverse this trend.”
Perhaps no category is more natural for the author of “The Art of the Deal” than the dealmakers.
Trump, who puts a premium on the ability to negotiate in business and finance, has chosen Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to lead the Commerce Department; Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs to lead the Treasury Department; and Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil who has a longtime relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, to be secretary of state.
“To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well,” Trump said last week during an interview about Tillerson on “Fox News Sunday.” “He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company — not for himself — for the company.”
Mnuchin made a fortune through financial deals and now becomes the nation’s top financial official. Ross, a “vulture” investor on Wall Street, bought nearly dead companies and made huge profits when his turnaround strategies worked.
Like most future presidents, Trump has also positioned loyal, trusted aides to be close to him at the White House.
Four of the loyalists — Reince Priebus, who will be White House chief of staff; Stephen Bannon, chief strategist; Donald McGahn, White House counsel; and Flynn, national-security adviser — will occupy the most coveted real estate in the West Wing.
The president-elect has also tapped Linda McMahon, former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, to oversee the Small Business Administration. McMahon has known Trump for years, long before he considered running for president. In 2007 on WWE, Trump took down Vince McMahon, McMahon’s husband and chairman of the organization, in what was billed as the “Battle of the Billionaires.”
All five loyalists stuck by Trump during the toughest of times in the campaign. Priebus, the departing chairman of the Republican Party, came late to joining the Trump team, but refused to waver publicly when the Washington establishment was rushing to condemn Trump during various scandals, particularly a leaked “Access Hollywood” recording that captured Trump boasting about grabbing women by their genitals.
Bannon, who has been accused of embracing white-nationalist views as head of Breitbart News, was always there, giving advice to Trump in the background, if not officially in charge of campaign strategy. Flynn and McGahn are veterans of Trump’s campaign world, having secured their posts in the administration through longevity.
Loyalty goes only so far, however. Four of Trump’s most avid supporters have no role in the new administration: Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey; Newt Gingrich, former House speaker; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas; and Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City.
If there was one group Trump repeatedly derided on the campaign trail, it was the establishment.
It was filled with the “stupid” people who ran the government poorly, Trump said. It represented the Washington swamp that he pledged to drain. When it looked like he might not win, he blamed members of the establishment.
But Trump hasn’t shunned the establishment as he sets up his government. He has chosen Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina as his envoy to the United Nations; Rep. Michael Pompeo of Kansas for CIA director; and Elaine Chao as his secretary of transportation.
Haley, a rising star in the Republican establishment, endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during the primaries. Pompeo, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is well-connected in the nation’s capital.
And there are few people who define the Republican establishment more than Chao, who, in addition to having served in Cabinet posts during both Bush administrations, is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.
Despite saying during the campaign that he knew more about the Islamic State group than did the generals, Trump is embracing the retired leaders of the U.S. military.
That explains Gen. James Mattis, who was responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East as head of U.S. Central Command, or Centcom, and is Trump’s pick for defense secretary. It also explains Gen. John Kelly, who oversaw U.S. military operations in Central and South America as head of U.S. Southern Command and is Trump’s choice for homeland-security secretary. It also may help frame his choice of Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, a former Navy SEAL commander, to be interior secretary. While not a general, Zinke served in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Pacific. His autobiography, “American Commander,” was published recently.
Trump particularly likes “Mad Dog Mattis,” the former Centcom commander’s nickname.
“Mad Dog Mattis!” Trump said to a roar of applause at a recent rally in Fayetteville, N.C. “Mad Dog plays no games, right?”
Trump called Mattis, who led a Marine division to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one of “the most effective generals that we’ve had in many, many decades.”