As expected, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition has been filled with juicy palace intrigue, surprising plot twists and characteristic head fakes meant to keep us all on the edge of our seats as he fills out his cabinet.
The latest announcement, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, is particularly Trumpian — unexpected, unconventional and, most importantly, controversial.
What isn’t surprising is that the appointments Trump has made have Democrats in hysterics. Attorney general pick Sen. Jeff Sessions is too extreme, they say.
Environmental protection pick Scott Pruitt would put the fox in charge of the henhouse, they say. Housing and Urban Development pick Ben Carson is too unqualified, they say. National security adviser choice Michael Flynn is too crazy, they say.
Another running theme of liberal malcontent is over Trump’s apparent backtracking on early promises to “drain the swamp,” a point he hit hard at campaign rallies.
A final point of contention for the left: Trump’s cabinet and other appointments seem to have a lot in common, namely that many come from Wall Street, the military or serious wealth. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said on ABC, “I call it the three-‘G’ cabinet: Goldman, generals and gazillionaires.”
Underlying all this whining, though, is a much deeper concern for liberals who have fought to wildly expand the size and reach of the federal bureaucracy over the past eight years. Many of Trump’s appointees are being sent to lead departments and agencies they believe have too much power, and in some cases — Rick Perry presumably going to the Energy Department is one — believe shouldn’t even exist.
Anyone who favors limiting the size of government, “starve-the-beast” fiscal reform and slashing bureaucratic red tape should be over the moon with Trump’s selections. Defense secretary pick James Mattis, for starters, thinks the department he will inherit should have less authority than it has had in the past, criticizing a policy of entrusting military leaders with decisions about war.
Trump’s pick to be education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a fierce opponent of the federally promoted education standards called Common Core, and is an advocate for locally focused ideas like school choice, vouchers and charter schools. Tom Price, his choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former surgeon who wants to radically limit the role of government in health insurance markets and within the medical profession.
Carson, selected as HUD secretary, has criticized the department for its overreach and has accused it of engaging in “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality . . . that often make matters worse,” policies he presumably plans to dismantle.
Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants and likely the next labor secretary, has been openly critical of government intervention in corporate decision-making, from mandating a higher minimum wage to forcing more overtime pay and sick-leave policies.
Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, made a career suing the EPA he is now set to lead for constitutional overreach, and established a “Federalism Unit” to “more effectively combat unwarranted regulation and systemic overreach by federal agencies.”
Commerce secretary choice Wilbur Ross, National Economic Council director pick Gary Cohn and Treasury secretary choice Steven Mnuchin all come from Wall Street banks, and likely bring with them an aversion to the kind of government intervention and regulation — such as the Dodd-Frank act — that constricts free markets.
In the election, Trump sent mixed signals. He wanted to shrink government, he sometimes said — but he also insisted the federal government could do more and more in many realms of American life. He promised, “I will give you everything” and suggested he believed in expansive executive branch authority.
That led many conservatives to call him an authoritarian — and to worry about how his ambitions would balloon federal deficits.
We’re discovering that the Trump who spoke on the stump may have been a bit of a mirage. If personnel is policy, he’s starting to shape up like a far more traditional conservative. This is a very good thing.
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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