Early on in Trump’s presidency, there was a lot of talk about palace intrigue as the various power centers in the administration jockeyed for position. That is why back in March 2017 I found Perry Bacon’s identification of the eight power centers to be helpful.
Of course, the one thing this administration has become known for is turnover. So I thought it would be helpful to see what has changed since Bacon published his original list.
1. The White Nationalists –
Bannon, Sessions, Miller, Gorka, Navarro
2. The Evangelicals – Pence,
Price, Pruitt, DeVos, Short
3. The Generals –
Mattis, Kelly, MacMaster
4. The Friends and Family – Ivanka, Kushner,
5. The RNCers –
Preibus, Spicer, Walsh
6. The Wall Streeters – Mnuchin,
7. The Bureaucrats –
1.8 million workers at federal agencies
8. The Lone Wolfs – Conway,
Every group has taken pretty big hits. But the two that were originally assumed to be the “adults in the room”—the generals and the RNCers—have been completely gutted.
What that list doesn’t take into account are the new faces of power within the administration. Mike Pompeo has replaced Tillerson as Secretary of State and might fit in best with the evangelicals. Hard core neocon John Bolton is now the national security advisor. He strikes me as a lone wolf kind of guy. But it’s clear that the one who is rising through the ranks is Mick Mulvaney. He is not only the budget director, but Trump’s acting chief of staff.
I suspect that the new people are learning the same lesson DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson had to learn the hard way: the most important thing is to never say “no” to the president. It also looks like anyone who challenges either Ivanka or Jared will eventually be headed for the door. Loyalty to the president and his family are all that matters—just as it has always been in the Trump Organization.
The one group I haven’t mentioned yet are “the bureaucrats.” When Bacon made that list, there was still some talk about what kind of role long-time career civil servants would play in this administration. What we’ve seen since then are attacks on those who work in intelligence or the Justice Department if they cross the president. But even more significant is the hollowing out of their ranks, as Tillerson did at the State Department. Reporting on this issue has slowed, but as of six months ago, Trump had still filled only 346 out of 686 key posts.
All of this points to something of great importance that Eric Holder wrote in his announcement about not running for president. He articulated the criteria Democrats should be looking for in a candidate.
- Does this person have a clear vision for the nation that meets the challenges of today and the uncertainties of the future?
- Is this a candidate of integrity whose honesty will help rebuild trust in our institutions?
- Does the person have the capacity — both mental and physical — to handle the rigors of the Oval Office?
- Does the candidate have the experience to revitalize a federal government that has been mismanaged at home and diminished abroad?
- Will this person have the ability to inspire the American people and bring us together?
Holder went on to name the issues Democrats need to prioritize, but I found this list to be interesting. I was especially intrigued by the fact that he included #4. It should come as no surprise that Holder would recognize the fact that the next president and his cabinet will be faced with revitalizing a federal government that has been mismanaged. He is the one who took over as attorney general after George W. Bush wreaked havoc on the Justice Department, primarily the Civil Rights Division. It became Holder’s task to clean up the mess that had been left for him and basically rebuild from scratch. Anyone who has ever managed a turnaround knows what a daunting task that can be.
If George W. Bush left the federal government in a mess, just imagine how decimated it will be after four years of Donald Trump at the helm. Over the course of the next year and a half, we’ll hear a lot about what changes Democrats want to make—primarily via legislation. But it is important to keep in mind that when we elect a president, we are electing the chief executive of the federal government. One of the criteria for those seeking that job will be the ability to turn around a huge bureaucracy that has been horribly mismanaged because all the previous occupant required was loyalty to he and his family.