Will Trump’s supporters recognize his bait-and-switch presidency?
Let’s stop pretending Donald Trump is a populist outsider. The question is whether his adoring fans will recognize the bait-and-switch and, if they do, will they care? After all, he’s been able to do no wrong in their eyes.
Six days into the Trump transition, one of the biggest bait-and-switch operations in recent history is already well under way. Trump campaigned as an outsider who would overthrow a hopelessly corrupt Washington establishment. Now we learn that many members of that very establishment will play key roles in a Trump Administration. On Friday, Trump announced that his soon-to-be Vice-President, Mike Pence, a former head of the Republican Study Committee on Capitol Hill, would replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the chairman of his transition team. On Sunday, that team announced that Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, the Party’s principal fund-raising and organizational arm, will serve as Trump’s White House chief of staff, while Stephen Bannon, the former Goldman Sachs banker and head of Breitbart News, the controversial alt-right Web site, will serve as Trump’s chief strategist. And, on Monday, Bloomberg News reported that the transition team had recommended for the post of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, another former Goldman Sachs banker, who served as Trump’s chief fund-raiser.
The hiring of Priebus shouldn’t have come as a surprise: he supported Trump throughout the campaign. Similarly, the idea that Trump, as President, would banish all the money men and billionaires who support and bankroll the Republican Party was always dubious in the extreme, and since the election it has been shown to be an utter sham. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “at least a half dozen major Washington lobbyists and three top fundraisers for Mr. Trump’s campaign have been tasked with heading key portions of Mr. Trump’s transition team. . . . In many cases, the lobbyists are selecting administration officials for departments that will affect the interests of firms they represent.”
The Journal report helpfully listed some of the lobbyists, the special interests they represent, and the duties they have been assigned. Martin Whitmer, who shills for the Association of American Railroads and the National Asphalt Pavement Association, is leading the transition’s “transportation and infrastructure” team. In the magazine this week, my colleague Jane Mayer wrote about Michael Catanzaro, a veteran lobbyist for oil and gas firms who is overseeing “energy independence,” and Mike McKenna, the president of the lobbying firm MWR Strategies, who is overseeing appointments to the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Both men count Koch Industries as clients…
One interest that will definitely be protected is the Trump business empire. Trump has said that he will hand his businesses over to his children to run while he’s in office, but three of them—Donald, Jr., Eric, and Ivanka—have been named members of the transition team’s new executive committee, as has Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Perhaps because nothing seems shocking anymore, this mingling of family and political interests didn’t provoke much comment when it was announced. But, as my colleague Ryan Lizza pointed out, it represents a “massive/unprecedented conflict.” Imagine the outcry if Hillary Clinton had won the election and then appointed Chelsea Clinton and Donna Shalala, a board member and the president of the Clinton Foundation, to her transition team.