Trump cabinet: conservative Hope and Change?

Eight years ago, Barack Obama promised America post-partisan “hope and change,” and wound up delivering a hard-Left ideological government instead.  When voters delivered a backlash in two midterm elections, Obama turned to expansions of executive-branch authority to continue in the same direction.


In 2016, Donald Trump ran as a different kind of post-partisan figure, one oriented toward middle-America populism. His Cabinet and other key appointments represent a complete 180 from the Obama era. Instead of progressive activists in key positions, Trump has brought in conservative lawmakers and proven private-sector executives, signaling significant reform on the horizon in a direction that conservatives might not have expected a few weeks ago.

Today, reports have two more significant posts following the same pattern. The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that rising GOP star Cathy McMorris Rodgers will take over the Department of the Interior. McMorris Rodgers has served on key committees with oversight of Interior, and will be expected to push for conservative reform of land-use and energy issues:

President-elect Donald Trump is expected to tap Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) to lead the Interior Department, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ms. McMorris Rodgers, a senior member of the House of Representatives, if confirmed by the Senate, would lead Mr. Trump’s efforts to open up federal lands and waters to fossil-fuel development and reverse environmental policies the Obama administration has pursued over the past eight years. …

The Interior Department has control over leasing of fossil fuels and renewable energy on millions of acres of federal lands and waters around the U.S. and conservation of national parks and forests. Mr. Trump has said he would work to review, and likely try to undo, much of what the agency has done over the past several years under President Barack Obama’s expansive regulatory agenda.

Ms. McMorris Rodgers is a reliable backer of Republican energy and environmental policies, though she hasn’t been a leading voice within the caucus on such issues. She supported legislation opening up the Atlantic Ocean to oil and natural-gas drilling and preventing the Interior Department from regulating hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil and natural-gas extraction technology.


McMorris Rodgers offers a complement to Scott Pruitt at the EPA. Both will be expected to defer more to states on land-use and enforcement issues, and both are critical to Trump’s stated policy of aggressive energy production. At the same time, other reports said Trump would name Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to his National Economic Council, strengthening at least two other appointments — former Goldman executive Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross at Commerce, and Carls Jr/Hardees CEO Andy Puzder at Labor.

Mnuchin and Cohn aren’t exactly hard-core conservatives, of course, but their inclusion speaks to a practical approach to governance rather than theoretical. However, it’s worth pointing out that Trump didn’t give much hint of that pragmatism in regard to Goldman Sachs during the campaign; his supporters demonized the group as part of the Wall Street/DC swamp that most needed draining. Puzder could be a good counter for that, as he is definitely conservative in nature, free market to the point of brushing up against self-interest at times in arguing against cronyism in government and economics.

In my column for The Fiscal Times, I argue that Trump’s incoming administration might just represent Hope and Change, conservative style:

[T]he most stunning turnaround takes place outside of the Cabinet at the EPA, where Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt will take the helm. Pruitt has spent the past few years suing the Obama administration and the EPA itself to fight the expansion of federal power at the expense of state jurisdiction. (The New York Times accused Pruitt of being a “climate change denialist” in its headline, but the report itself shows Pruitt encouraging debate on the issue.)  Pruitt’s nomination promises an energetic rollback of Obama’s expansion of regulation through the Waters of the US rule and the Clean Air Act, two mechanisms used by the EPA to assert near-total jurisdiction independent of any Congressional mandate.

On national security, the message might be subtle, but no less clear. The Obama administration preferred to deal with terrorism from a law-enforcement perspective rather than as a military challenge. Early on, the administration tried changing the terms used to de-emphasize military implications; “terrorist attack” became “man-caused disaster,” then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Der Speigel in March 2009. In the same month, the Department of Defense’s office of security review sent a memo to senior Pentagon staff members informing them that they should no longer refer to a “global war on terror,” but to “overseas contingency operations.”

Almost eight years later, Trump has nominated three retired generals to run key national-security positions: Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, and Gen. John Allen as Secretary of Homeland Security. Some in Congress have raised questions about the influence of so many retired flag officers in Cabinet positions, but Trump has signaled that he sees threats against US interests at home and abroad in military rather than law enforcement terms. All three have reputations for independence and bluntness, and none are likely to put much time into finding comforting euphemisms for the threats we face. …

So far, though, Trump seems intent on creating the most conservative and business-oriented Cabinet in decades. If Horowitz was correct and “personnel is policy,” then conservatives should find themselves pleasantly surprised and encouraged thus far with a 180-degree change of direction these key appointments promise. The inauguration on January 20th marks the date in which conservatives might find their own version of hope and change.


Speaking of which … we’ve come a long way from those “man-caused disasters” and “kinetic military actions,” eh? Janet Napolitano offered praise of Trump’s DHS choice in an appearance on Morning Joe:

Readers will recall that Napolitano seemed a lot more concerned with domestic right-wing fringe groups than with Islamic terrorism and creating “lexicons” to identify them, including such political views as, um … opposing the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Napolitano later withdrew both, claiming that the report hadn’t been vetted before its release (it had). Kudos to her for recognizing the value in experience dealing with actual threats. Something tells me that Flynn, Kelly, and Mattis will have their focus on other issues than political correctness.

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Jazz Shaw 10:01 AM on December 02, 2023