Trump keeps America in suspense – Politico
Donald Trump famously declared his intention to keep America “in suspense” about whether he would accept the outcome of the election, injecting the possibility of a reality-show plot twist into the presidential race.
Now, after his shocking win, the president-elect is keeping up the drama, parading a wild range of job candidates, well-wishers and business titans before the public as he builds out his administration.
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“It went great,” Trump hollered to a small group of reporters on Saturday after meeting with former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!” the president-elect tweeted on Sunday morning, as he fueled the guessing game around his nascent administration.
As Trump is acting out a reassuring, familiar tableau for television viewers presenting himself looking every bit the part of an American president, he is also creating a smokescreen designed to mask whatever internal drama is occurring behind closed doors and to give himself the space to do things his way. Less than two weeks into his presidential transition, Trump is still defying convention, ignoring the rules and naysayers, tweeting and assembling an administration in a manner that only further fuels the country’s culture wars — and its new addiction to the spectacle of its politics.
The most dramatic story line surrounds Trump’s pick for secretary of state, which could come this week, and the speculation that he could go with Romney, one of his most outspoken GOP critics, over Rudy Giuliani, perhaps his closest campaign confidant, who openly covets the post.
As he did throughout the campaign, Trump is managing to keep news coverage of his transition on his own terms, eschewing news conferences at which reporters could ask serious questions and offering only photo ops and tweets the media continues to willingly amplify.
After a week of scattered media reports from a scrum of reporters lurking in the Trump Tower lobby, the president-elect’s transition operation shifted to his Bedminster, New Jersey, estate, where he held meetings over the weekend with potential Cabinet appointees.
For the past two days, every meeting played out before a phalanx of cameras that captured every coming and going from the front door, with the president-elect appearing each time to greet his visitor as they arrived — offering a smile or a wave, pointing his finger like a gun at his latest potential hire — and seeing them off as they departed. Several times, the goodbyes brought a few succinct comments for the press, with generic platitudes, providing little insight. Sunday morning’s New York Times featured a large above-the-fold color photo of Trump waving from his doorstep at a departing Romney, whose face looked right into the cameras with a knowing smirk.
Trump offered more pointed comments — not related to his transition — over the weekend via his Twitter feed. After blasting off a series of tweets Saturday morning demanding an apology from the cast of “Hamilton” for its Friday night post-performance plea to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to look out for all Americans, Trump took aim Sunday morning at the cast of “Saturday Night Live” for continuing to lampoon him even after his election victory. The tweets served to distract much of the public and the press from Trump’s decision to pay $25 million to settle a lawsuit against Trump University for defrauding its students. And they served notice that Trump, even as he begins to get used to the physical and stylistic trappings of the presidency, will continue to behave in a manner more akin to a reality TV or internet star than the leader of the free world.
Behind the drama, the contours of Trump’s team are already taking shape — a combination of fierce loyalists such as Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions and establishment nods like Mike Pompeo and Reince Priebus. But the string of visitors over the weekend mostly offered more evidence that Trump is going to build out a Cabinet that largely includes loyalists and ideologically aligned conservatives eager to carry out the policies he outlined during his campaign, no matter how controversial.
Mattis, an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy and an ally of retired Lt. Gen. Flynn, is reportedly a favorite to serve as Trump’s secretary of defense, but it’s unclear whether he is interested in the job.
Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, who is credited with having inspired Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants, was among those who met with Trump on Sunday.
“In these initial picks, he’s not only picked people he’s close to but also who are well-qualified for the jobs,” said Charlie Black, a longtime GOP lobbyist in Washington.
The biggest question mark for the coming week, however, is secretary of state, a position that is perhaps the highest- profile post in any administration and potentially has the most at stake, as that person takes on the delicate role of shaping the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world.
Giuliani, who visited with Trump on Sunday, is still seen as a top contender for the job, despite vast consulting work that presents troubling questions about his conflicts of interest.
But Trump has shown little concern for his own business entanglements that would traditionally be treated as major red flags.
After asserting that Hillary Clinton was “crooked” for using her influence as secretary of state to drive private donations to her family’s foundation, Trump is showing little concern for demonstrating that his own business dealings will be walled off from his administration and that he won’t use the presidency to enrich himself.
According to a New York Times report, Trump met last week with three Indian executives who are partnering with him on a new Trump-branded luxury apartment building south of Mumbai and who flew all the way to New York City simply to congratulate him.
Priebus, the RNC chairman who has signed on to serve as Trump’s chief of staff, attempted to downplay concerns as he made the rounds on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit.
“Obviously, we will comply with all of those laws, and we will have our White House counsel review all of these things. We will have every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed, and I can assure the American people that there wouldn’t be any wrongdoing or any sort of undue influence over any decision-making,” Priebus said.
Thus far, however, the president-elect seems to believe that Americans are willing to cut him some slack as he familiarizes himself with the vastness and many routines and requirements of the presidency — and that, given the deluge of seemingly devastating news coverage he withstood during the campaign, that he will continue to be judged by a different, more lenient standard even once he takes office.
After excoriating Clinton for possibly compromising national security by inadvertently communicating about classified information over the private, unsecured email server she set up, Trump and his aides have not offered up details about his own efforts to secure the landlines at Trump Tower that he has been using to take phone calls from heads of state around the world. And Trump appeared to confirm a New York Post report from Sunday that Trump’s wife and son are unlikely to move to Washington to live in the White House, another unorthodox decision that will continue to require heavy Secret Service operations in midtown Manhattan to secure Trump Tower, where the incoming first lady will reside.
Asked about plans for Melania and Barron to move to Washington, Trump said on Sunday, “Very soon. After he’s finished with school.”
Trump then retired to his private residence in Bedminster for dinner and prepared to zip back to his Manhattan penthouse.
“He’s done this whole thing based on his own gut and instincts,” one longtime Trump ally said. “It doesn’t look like he’s about to stop now.”