In many ways, the Trump presidency began the day he won the election – and in just three weeks, Donald Trump has already brought bracing change to the institution.
He tweets with abandon, going over the heads of the mainstream media and straight to his public; and he says he’ll keep doing so after taking office. He has conducted his Cabinet search out in the open, like a casting call for “The Apprentice,” as applicants (and well-wishers) come and go through the lobby of Trump Tower. And he will keep having big rallies, starting Thursday in Cincinnati, as he launches a “thank you” tour of battleground states.
At the same time, Trump is also behaving as a conventional Republican. He has named GOP establishment figures to top posts – starting with national party chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, and continuing with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Georgia Rep. Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary, and former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao as Transportation secretary.
In so doing, Trump has reassured GOP regulars and consolidated the party behind him. Trump’s conventional early Cabinet picks took on added significance following two controversial appointments: Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
What change looks like
But Trump’s maverick, populist side remains supremely important: It helps keep his voters with him, including disaffected, working-class Democrats and first-time voters inspired by Trump’s promise to “make America great again.” The election of 2016 was a cry for change, and just by winning, the billionaire businessman/political novice has broken the mold. Now he’s showing what change can look like.
Perhaps most eye-popping was the news Tuesday night that the incoming Trump administration had struck a deal to keep nearly 1,000 jobs with the Carrier air conditioning company in Indiana. Carrier had planned to move 1,400 jobs to Mexico, a topic that Trump had pounded relentlessly during the campaign.
Many questions remain over the deal, which involved concessions to Carrier reportedly arranged by Trump and the incoming vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. But at first blush – and certainly for the workers involved – the Carrier news was a stunning piece of good news.
Trump also made headlines Wednesday with his announcement, via Twitter, that he and his adult children will hold a press conference Dec. 15 to address concerns about conflicts of interest between Trump Organization business dealings and Trump’s role as president.
He promised to leave the Trump Organization “in total,” and said that, at the press conference, he would reveal legal documents that remove him from the business operations of his companies. Trump had said during the campaign that his children would take over his businesses if he won the presidency.
Trump’s profile as a high-flying businessman, in and of itself, makes him unique as an incoming president. And questions about conflict of interest, almost regardless of what is announced on Dec. 15, are certain to dog him during his time in office.
A daily adventure
But it is Trump’s populist flair for capturing and holding attention that promises to make his presidency a daily adventure. Whether it’s his tweets or his travels or the daily reality show of his decision-making process, the public can’t look away.
"In the days when President-elect John Kennedy met prospective Cabinet members at his Georgetown home and President-elect Richard Nixon was vetting his Cabinet at the Pierre Hotel in N.Y., the process was secretive,” writes John Gizzi, chief political columnist at Newsmax, in an email. “Runners-up and near-secretaries of something were revealed only years later.”
Today, Mr. Gizzi says, Trump has brought “an unusually bright ray of transparency” into the process. “We now get to see Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. Bob Corker coming and going from Trump Tower, vying for secretary of State as if they were finalists in a Trump-managed beauty pageant."
Gizzi compares Trump’s ground-breaking use of Twitter to President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside radio chats that reached millions of Americans directly, avoiding the filter of traditional news media.
“In some ways, Trump is an FDR of the 21st century – a mass communicator who uses new tools to hold enemies accountable,” Gizzi writes. “And, like Roosevelt in 1938, when he held rallies to try to purge conservative enemies from the Democratic Party, a President Trump will continue to hold rallies highlighting his version of things. Watch for some big shows as Congress tries to repeal Obamacare.”
How Trump consolidated GOP support
Perhaps most extraordinary in Trump’s early days as president-elect is how he has so quickly consolidated the Republican Party behind him. That even a “never-Trumper” like former Governor Romney of Massachusetts would consider becoming Trump’s secretary of State is telling.
On Capitol Hill, another “never-Trumper” – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina – seems to be warming to the president-elect, and is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now.
"The fact that he's going to have a news conference with his family and talk about how to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest – it's a good sign," Senator Graham tells Politico. "Does it make sense to me? I'm just going to wait ... but I want to applaud him for recognizing the fact that it's a problem."