Donald Trump’s transition: Five reasons why chaos reigns on the top floor of Trump Tower

Trump values loyalty, but he risks manning government with sycophants and mediocrity

David Usborne
New York
Wednesday 16 November 2016 22:53
Trump Tower in Manhattan where the transition effort is under way
Trump Tower in Manhattan where the transition effort is under way

What is that pooling in the pit of the main lift shaft in Trump Tower? The lubricant of a transition pow-wow on the 58th floor purring effortlessly towards an early conclusion? Or is it blood from a scene worthy of Game of Thrones as daggers are thrown and bodies are discreetly removed?

One week after the election, the pressure on Team Trump to announce its first batch of appointments - beyond those of Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff and Stephen Bannon, formerly of Breitbart, as Chief Strategist - grows by the hour. Here are five reasons why it seems reasonable to surmise that it’s blood, not oil, that is seeping through the Manhattan skyline.

The abrupt removal of Governor Chris Christie as head of the transition effort - the most visible corpse of all - has been the clearest indication of turmoil on the top floor. The official explanation: Mike Pence, with his years as a member of Congress, is better placed to navigate the traps and crevasses of the Washington complex.

Trump: We're going to deport millions

But in the days since at least five more Christie loyalists have been tossed on the pyre, including former Congressman Mike Rogers, who had been seen by many in the Republican establishment as the last sane voice standing in choosing Mr Trump’s foreign policy team.

All fingers are pointing at new Trump dauphin, son-in-law Jared Kushner. Seen by some as the man most close to the president-elect’s ear, he has special reason to hold a grudge against Christie and all who are loyal to him: his father spent two years in prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to tax evasion and witness tampering. Mr Christie was the prosecutor in the case.

By all accounts, this is the only attribute that matters to Mr Trump as he peruses candidates not just for his cabinet, but other top jobs in the White House, including on his national security staff, and no fewer than 4,000 other positions scattered across Washington.

Rewarding loyalists only risks Mr Trump surrounding himself with sycophants and mediocrity. A glimpse of what might be happening was offered by Eliot Cohen, a State Department counselor from 2007-2009, who described in the Washington Post how his attempts to suggest one possible candidate for office to a friend at Trump Tower was scornfully rejected when he said the person in question was not ready yet to submit his resume but would be open to receiving an inquiring call. His furious friend, he concluded, “is in the midst of a transition team that was never well-prepared to begin with and is now torn by acrimony, resignations and palace coups”.

Mr Christie had been supervising a transition operation in Washington since September, but if the effort is now in a state of chaos, the reason may be this: nobody in Trumpland, including the president-elect himself, imagined they were actually going to win.

This means for one thing that the urgency that Ms Clinton’s transition crew presumably possessed was always missing in the Christie operation. When the votes were in, Messrs Trump and Pence discovered to their dismay that the Governor was still offering them a mostly blank sheet of paper. (Maybe his firing was deserved.) But another thing was going on: with almost no one in Washington thinking a Trump victory was possible, there was never the cacophony of would-be applicants they might have expected knocking their door down to get on board.

Much to the doubtless pique of Mr Trump, he can’t give plum jobs to just anybody and expect them to sail through the confirmation process in the Senate. Embarrassing information leaking out at the last minute and dooming any of his nominees is an event that can be crippling in the early days of an administration, feeding perceptions of amateur hour.

Case in point: Rudy Giuliani has been the subject of fevered speculation for several days that he is Mr Trump’s first choice to be Secretary of State. (Its that loyalty thing again - Mr Giuliani abandoned all caution and courtesy during the campaign standing up for Trump and vowing to imprison Ms Clinton.) But now as early vetting of Mr Giulani has got under way, the team has suddenly encountered some snags to do with his private-sector record of recent years of providing security consulting to some clients, the long list of which we have yet to see.

In short, Mr Trump and many of the people around him, including the Dauphin and his other adult children - Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka - don’t have a clue what they are doing. There is no idiot’s guide in Barnes & Noble to building a government in seventy days to take over the running of the world greatest, and most complex, superpower.

It was part of Mr Trump’s appeal that he was a non-politician running for the highest political post in the land. But since election night he has collided head-on with some uncomfortable realities He can’t just behave like a CEO, plucking those people he likes or thinks he can trust from the ether, without knowing how Washington - or in the case of the Secretary of State, the rest of the world - will react to them. And then there are all those foreign leaders he has to take calls from at the same time. And he thought campaigning was the hard part.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in