Trump's First Appointments Suggest He's Still in Campaign Mode, Not Governing Mode

In many families, including mine, the raw emotions stemming from the 2016 election are likely to create some awkwardness at this week's Thanksgiving get-togethers. Keeping the conversation away from politics seems like a worthy, though difficult, goal.That may be especially hard, given what has transpired since the election. While both President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have sought to allay the underlying concerns Trump's often outrageous rhetoric created, the next president's initial personnel steps suggest he has not yet come fully to grips with the difference between campaigning and governing.With one exception — his choice of Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff — Trump's first appointments have gone to close associates who shared and joined in the hardline rhetoric that epitomized his campaign, though that could change with the many appointments yet to be made.His initial choices include Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, his first and most vociferous congressional supporter, as attorney general; retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser; and Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, an enthusiastic member of the Benghazi investigating committee, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.Sessions, who shares Trump's hard-line stance on illegal immigration, gained prominence three decades ago when the Senate derailed his nomination as a federal judge because of his racist statements. That's hardly encouraging at a time of growing concern over efforts by fellow Republicans to enact new limits on voting rights.Flynn, highly regarded for his intelligence work in Afghanistan, was ousted later as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in part because of problems stemming from his leadership style. That raises questions about his ability to manage the large National Security Council staff and his potential relationships with the yet-to-be-named secretaries of state and defense. And his enthusiastic campaigning and acceptance of a paid Moscow appearance create doubts about his temperament and judiciousness.Fellow lawmakers have high regard for Pompeo's intelligence and knowledge. But his prominence stems primarily from his outspoken political attitudes on several investigating committees. Interestingly, one of those rejected for the CIA post was former Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who created friction with fellow Republicans with a Benghazi report largely absolving the Clinton State Department.A lot will hinge on Trump's top two White House appointments, in which he provided an interesting but little-noticed parallel with the way another president-elect, Ronald Reagan, dealt with a similar situation.Amid questions about whether Reagan would steer a more centrist or conservative course, he appointed Edwin Meese as counselor to the president and James Baker as chief of staff — simultaneously and in that order, just as Trump named Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor and Priebus as chief of staff. Reagan's announcement said the two, like Bannon and Priebus, would have equal status and stressed the broad portfolio for the more conservative Meese, including supervising the White House domestic policy staff and the National Security Council."By announcing the appointments simultaneously, Mr. Reagan appeared to be seeking to avoid controversy over who will be the No. 1 White House aide," I wrote in The Baltimore Sun. "Though Mr. Baker will have the title of chief of staff, it appeared that Mr. Meese will have a more important role in the development and administration of programs."It didn't work out that way. Despite Meese's personal closeness to Reagan, Baker proved more competent and politically adept in managing day-to-day decisions, bolstered by an alliance he formed with another longtime Reagan adviser, Michael Deaver, who was especially close to Nancy Reagan.For Trump, much may depend on whether Priebus or Bannon — who has a longer relationship with the president-elect — proves more influential.The conflicting pressures facing the nascent administration are also evident in weighing other major appointments. For example, if Trump names former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney secretary of state despite their personal and policy differences, the new administration's foreign policy may gain a more pragmatic balance than seems evident so far.But while some analysts stress the positive optics of Trump's outreach to former rivals, it's good to recall what John Mitchell said after managing Richard Nixon's successful 1968 campaign: "Watch what we do, not what we say."So far, none of Trump's actions have allayed the concerns many of us had over his campaign rhetoric, making it harder this week to change the subject.Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News. Email:  Continue reading...

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