Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump’s A-Team

The Wall Street Journal

President-elect Trump named the respected schools reformer Betsy DeVos from Michigan as Secretary of Education

The president-elect is assembling a who’s who of conservatives for his cabinet.

By Daniel Henninger

The day before Thanksgiving in New York, I bumped into a Trump adviser who actually knows what is going on inside Trump Tower, as opposed to rumors inhabiting the media such as this Tuesday headline: “Trump’s Team Frays Over Romney.” The message I got was different: “It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be just fine.”

In the seven days since Thanksgiving, President-elect Trump has named the respected schools reformer Betsy DeVos from Michigan as Secretary of Education. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a committed reformer of ObamaCare, is Secretary of Health and Human Services. Elaine Chao, who was George W. Bush’s reformist Labor Secretary for eight years, is the new Secretary of Transportation.

Two businessmen will enter the cabinet. Former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin is Treasury Secretary and Wilbur Ross, an investor in distressed industries, will be Commerce Secretary.

Retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, one of the most able officers to serve in Iraq and later head of the U.S. Central Command, is within a hair of being Secretary of Defense.

Going deeper into the policy weeds, Mr. Trump selected Indiana Medicaid reformer Seema Verma to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The main Supreme Court adviser visiting Trump Tower has been Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society.

Bob Woodson, one of this generation’s smartest and most productive black conservatives, has been in to discuss with Mr. Trump how to make good on his campaign promise to champion the inner cities.

If instead of these individuals, the visitors to Trump Tower had been the alt-right activists of so many progressive night sweats, it would have been reported across the New York Times’ front page and on CNN round the clock, as if Godzilla and Mothra were trundling up Fifth Avenue.

Instead, the Trump transition has been talking to and appointing some of the most accomplished and serious individuals in Republican and conservative politics. Donald Trump isn’t pulling rabbits out of a hat. Somebody at team Trump has a first-rate Rolodex.

By now, it should be obvious that the Trump operation exists in two parts. One half is the operation’s face, Donald Trump. The other half is the operation behind the face. Mr. Trump’s persona has often made it difficult to take the entire Trump phenomenon seriously. That, we learned, is a mistake.

Months ago, Mr. Trump’s small team got hold of what is essentially a transition textbook—“Presidential Transition Guide” published earlier this year by the Partnership for Public Service. Its contributors worked on pre-election transitions for John McCain,Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. The Trump preparatory group began to come together in Washington last spring.

In fact, both the Trump and Clinton transition teams were in the same building at 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from the White House. Hillary’s people were on the 17th floor and the Trump planners were on the eighth. They rode the elevators together—and understood that one of them would fold up shop. Life is full of surprises.

This Trump transition operation is filled with specialists and veterans extending back to Ronald Reagan’s transition, such as Ed Meese. While New York conducts auditions for the cabinet’s speaking parts, the Washington policy shop is now recruiting the under-, deputy- and assistant secretaryships.

I’m told calls are arriving from solid people in the private sector who want to work on the Trump project, without pay, and then get out. That is the private-to-public expertise model created by Gov. Mitch Daniels in Indiana and followed by Govs. John Kasich in Ohio and Bill Haslam in Tennessee.

Presumably this is the intention in naming Messrs. Mnuchin and Ross. I would have preferred seeing House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling get Treasury, on the assumption that his ability to get tax reform and the overhaul of Dodd-Frank through Congress would have all but guaranteed a revived economy and a successful first Trump term. Mr. Mnuchin will benefit from having Chairman Hensarling as a lodestar in the House.

If Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy goal is to “kill ISIS,” it would be hard to design a more effective partnership than Jim Mattis at Defense and David Petraeus at State. They know what to do and how to do it, but that’s not the most important thing.

As former commanders in Iraq, Gens. Mattis and Petraeus have seen enough sacrifice from American troops in the Middle East for two lifetimes. These are men who will not argue for committing ground troops unless the U.S. is going to win and then secure the durability of its dear investment there.

As for Kellyanne Conway’s supposed anti-Romney rampage Sunday morning, I’m more inclined to see it as Thomas Cromwell going on television to explain the requirements of loyalty to Henry VIII’s associates.