President-elect Donald Trump is stocking his cabinet and administration at an astonishing clip.
Two themes appear throughout many of these picks: military and private-sector experience. That is not to say that there aren’t some politically-experienced establishment types in Trump’s new administration. Former Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush (and wife of Senator Mitch McConnell), Elaine Chao, will be serving as Trump’s Secretary of Transportation. The fact that there are not many other Bush-era figures reflects Trump’s penchant for outsiders and also the rift that exists between Trump and the Bush family.
On the military side, General John Kelly was selected to head the Department of Homeland Security. Three retired military leaders have now been invited into the new administration—General Jim Mattis, Admiral Michael Flynn, and Kelly. General David Petraeus is still mentioned for various posts, as well. General Kelly is known for his hardline stance on immigration.
The plethora of military picks by Trump has raised the ire of some of his despisers, who have suggested terms like “military junta” to describe these picks. Never mind the fact that these military leaders are all retired and are some of the most gifted at navigating mind-boggling bureaucracies. There is no savvier move in making cabinet picks for Trump—a controversial figure, to say the least—than relying upon our nation’s most trusted institution.
Among private-sector figures, the nomination of ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, for secretary of state is the most prominent and potentially divisive. Prior to the nomination of Tillerson, this high-profile and vastly-important position seemed destined to be filled with an experienced political hand—Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Bob Corker—or a revered military leader like Petraeus. We should not undersell Tillerson’s experience—he was the foreign policy operator for a huge international corporation. He also might have the eminently-qualified former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, alongside him.
Tillerson will provoke fierce opposition on two fronts—foreign policy and environmental policy. The Russian government considers Tillerson to be both a friend and valued business partner. He openly questioned the sanctions put upon Russia by the Obama administration for Russian aggression against Ukraine. On this front, he is a risky pick for Trump, after Russian interference in our recent election that seemed to benefit Trump. ExxonMobil is also a boogeyman for environmental activists, which means that Tillerson will have a target on his back from that lobby.
Other recent outsiders appointed by Trump include Andrew Puzder—an anti-minimum wage business leader—to secretary of labor and World Wrestling Entertainment icon, Linda McMahon, to the Small Business Administration. In these picks, Trump also continues to turn critics into department heads. The same could be said of Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who has sued the department (the Environmental Protection Agency), that he is now tasked to lead.
For all the sexism charges against Trump, he sure is bringing a lot of women on board at the White House. There are two women in the Cabinet and four in the administration. There are likely a few more in the wings as well. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, is rumored to be the favorite for Director of National Intelligence. Former Governors Sarah Palin (AK) and Mary Fallin (OK) and current Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp (ND), are being considered for posts, as well.
The selection of Heitkamp seems to be a particularly-intriguing choice for Trump. Her selection would show his bipartisan bona fides and she would likely align with Trump on matters pertaining to energy, the environment, and agriculture. By selecting Heitkamp, Trump would also bring a red state seat in North Dakota more quickly into the GOP fold. Only Heitkamp would be able to hold that seat for the Democratic Party and even then her prospects would be dubious in 2018.
Trump continues to challenge conventional wisdom with his picks—which is one of the reasons he was elected. The American people want not stasis in our political system, but reform and responsiveness. By tapping military and private-sector leaders throughout his administration, Trump is showing the American people that he aims to do just that.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.