US President-elect Donald Trump (L) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emerge after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Nov. 19, 2016. (photo by REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Trump’s transition off to rough start

Author: Carl M. Cannon and Emily Goodin

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s transition from gadfly to leader of the free world got off to an uneven start this week. Although he tapped a succession of prominent conservatives to serve in his administration — as would any typical Republican — his interactions with various world leaders seemed slipshod and haphazard.

Summary⎙ Print Donald Trump’s administration is turning out to be the year of the white male.

The New York Times reported that important leaders resorted to cold-calling Trump to reach him. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both succeeded in getting through this way. When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t find a number, he asked his nation’s US ambassador for help. That envoy got hold of famed Aussie golfer Greg Norman, a Trump pal, who provided Trump’s personal cellphone number, according to BuzzFeed.

With an introduction like that, Trump was only too happy to take the call, but the ensuing 15-minute conversation took place over an unsecured phone line. Meanwhile, Trump’s first such face-to-face meeting took place with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But in a break with protocol, Trump inexplicably brought his daughter Ivanka to the meeting.

But at least the Republicans have a transition to struggle with. For the second week in a row, Democrats were trying to absorb their Election Day losses and what it means for their party’s future. Congress now remains firmly in Republican hands, and the White House soon will be, too. If Trump makes good on his pre-election vows regarding judicial appointments, the Supreme Court will follow.

None of this was foreseen by liberals. The 2016 election was supposed to be the year of the woman: Hillary Clinton was favored to win the presidency, seven more Democratic women ran for the Senate and Nancy Pelosi might once again be speaker of the House.

It turned out to be the year of the white male.

Hillary was supposed to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling. Instead she lost to a real estate tycoon and reality television star with no prior political experience. The seven women running for Senate were supposed to help Democrats regain control of the upper chamber. Only four won, and the Republicans maintained their hold on the Senate. House Democrats dangled the possibility of retaking the lower chamber. Instead, they barely made a dent in the 31 seats they needed to win.

And Democrats were left on the sidelines watching as Trump began forming a government. This is never an easy job, even for someone with political experience. Timing is critical, as RealClearPolitics’ Alexis Simendinger reported. The process has begun for Team Trump.

For a candidate who came under fire for his lewd comments toward women and his stance toward minorities, his first picks provided a defiant visual: They are white men and conservative allies of his team.

Earlier this week, Trump announced Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon as a top adviser. On Nov. 18, Trump announced his first Cabinet pick and other senior level national security roles: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general; Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA; and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Most interestingly, Trump is apparently picking advisers who agree with him. RealClearPolitics’ Simendinger and Caitlin Huey-Burns noted that “Trump’s selections showcase his appreciation for loyalists — or at least those whose views mirror his campaign critiques of President Obama’s policies.”

They also noted, “To date, Trump appears to be leaning heavily on Washington insiders, despite his frequent suggestions that the nation’s capital needs mavericks and innovators to restore the country to greatness. He has emphasized expansive resumes and Washington experience while announcing his initial appointees.

“Trump is also partial to white men, judging from the five appointments he’s made and additional names floated in the news media for Cabinet and White House positions yet to be filled.”

Trump adviser Sean Spicer pushed back on this sentiment in call with reporters the morning of Nov. 18. He argued that the president-elect’s meetings with people such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and his Nov. 19 meeting with Mitt Romney, both of whom were Trump critics, shows Trump wants the best and brightest people to move this country forward, including those who supported him and those who didn’t.

However, his first picks were supporters of Team Trump.

In 2008, President-elect Barack Obama famously picked a “team of rivals” to be in his Cabinet, including the biggest rival of all — his former primary opponent Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Sessions and Flynn have been tight with Trump since the early days of his campaign. Following a contest in which the GOP nominee vowed to put Clinton in jail as crowds shouted, “Lock her up,” Sessions will head the department that could lead to such an investigation. However, at the Republican National Convention in July, when those shouts filled Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, Sessions wouldn’t say if Clinton should be in prison. The senator was Trump’s first supporter in the upper chamber and has long had the ear of the president-elect.

Flynn will be Trump’s top adviser on issues of foreign policy and national security — a critical role for a president who doesn’t have previous experience in that area. Flynn’s hard-line views on Islam and Muslims have made him a lightning rod for controversy, as have his close ties to Russia. His appointment signals that Trump is likely to take a tough approach to foreign policy.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller defended the pick on a call with reporters the morning of Nov. 18, saying the president-elect is very supportive of the retired general. He noted that Flynn is widely regarded as one of the most respected generals and intelligence officers of his generation.

Pompeo was originally a Marco Rubio supporter but did endorse Trump later in the process. The lawmaker is close to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and was in the spin room after the vice presidential debate, defending Pence’s performance. He served on the House Intelligence Committee and was a sharp critic of Clinton’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack that claimed four American lives.

The next round of Cabinet announcements could be just as telling. There are three major posts that haven’t been announced: secretary of state, Treasury secretary and secretary of defense.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned for Trump and was one of his biggest defenders after the “Access Hollywood” recording was released, is said to be a top candidate for secretary of state. Other names mentioned include former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Haley, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Romney.

Names for Treasury include Goldman Sachs alum Steven Mnuchin and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling. Talk for Defense includes former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.

That list, too, is mostly male and white. There have been women mentioned for Cabinet slots: Sarah Palin to head the Department of the Interior, former Washington, D.C., Schools Superintendent Michelle Rhee for education secretary and Haley for secretary of state. We shall see, but so far, the top spots have gone to men.

Ivanka Trump’s presence at the Abe meeting underscored another unorthodox feature of this transition: questions about how Trump plans to wall off his political role from his business empire. His team has said the three oldest Trump children will take control of the latter while the new president’s holdings are in a blind trust. But ethics experts have questioned that arrangement given that Trump will know exactly what holdings are in the trust.

The Wall Street Journal, in a Nov. 17 editorial, urged Trump to liquidate his business holdings and put the proceeds into a blind trust. The conservative editorial board wrote:

“One reason 60 million voters elected Donald Trump is because he promised to change Washington’s culture of self-dealing, and if he wants to succeed he’s going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example. Mr. Trump has so far indicated that he will keep his business empire but turn over management to his children, and therein lies political danger. … Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are wondering where they go from here, as RealClearPolitics’ Huey-Burns and James Arkin reported. Pelosi, for one, is getting a challenge for her House leadership position from younger Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

And RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende has written several pieces analyzing Trump’s victory: how white voters played a key role; how polls weren’t off, but the pundits were; and finally a look at how the Republican Party is the strongest it has been since 1928. RealClearPolitics’ junior analyst David Byler contributed to the statistical postmortem with a look at the Clinton and Trump coalitions and an examination of how Trump both did and didn’t reshape the electoral map.

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