As wider Cabinet choices are made by President-elect Trump, optimism should grow. Beyond national security, the incoming team has a deep bench to draw from. Perhaps missed in the media hoopla over national security appointments is the enormous range of talent that may become “The Trump Administration.” If the “best and brightest” step up, and are asked to participate, this could be the most qualified Cabinet in decades. Here is why.
Top flight executive decision-makers are available to the Trump-Pence team, and appear willing to assist. From former and current Governors to former Chief Executive Officers in the private sector, the likelihood is that matching of talent to mission – without the traditional need or inclination to divvy up political favors – is going to produce a cabinet that looks more like a board room, or theater commanders assembled to fight and win, than a political gathering.
If Trump/Pence see their mandate as generating results, and team members share that focus on results, America becomes the winner. If the top team is great minds with great experience and respect for each other, expect less backbiting, less jockeying for political advantage, more cooperation across domains and lanes, and a group able and ready to do what they are selected for, not looking for their next political job. What a refreshing development that would be.
And who might fit what, in the next round? The key will be matching talent and experience to problems sets and missions. Only the leadership team knows where it is headed, but good ideas abound. For example, how remarkable would it be if we got a collection of business-savvy minds, working together to make history by unmaking the vast landscape of Federal programs that create no measurable outcomes? What if the Federal regulatory process and voluminous Federal Register were evaluated from a business perspective, something not done in 35 years?
What if the posts of Treasury Secretary, Commerce, Office of Management and Budget, Small Business Administration, and Undersecretaries for Management in the biggest Federal Departments were all or mostly from business? What if these top leaders saw themselves as managing for progress, creating growth – not captured by their respective bureaucracies, but as fiduciaries for the average American taxpayer? What if the Cabinet really became a boardroom, with collegiality and shared commitment to generating a return for – and returning power to – America’s shareholders, “We, The People,” the voters? Can you imagine? Accountability returning, for its own sake?
Next, take departments like Labor, Transportation, and Education. For Labor, what if you brought in a Republican Governor who made his reputation reconfiguring labor policy, restoring economic growth and financial balance in his State, who had then stood down a recall vote, won reelection, and stood with Donald Trump on the stage in that first debate? Yes, would the likes of Scott Walker not be a good option?
For Transportation, what if you could bring a successful former Republican Governor into the fold, someone who successfully led a blue state, made good on a much-doubted campaign promise to create a large “intercounty connector,” stalled since the 1960s. What if that Governor has done so making the transportation project a toll road, helping it pay for itself, and managed to improve the flow of interregional traffic, cutting down traffic congestion while spurring economic growth? What if that potential Transportation Secretary were also a former non-nonsense congressman, so highly respected by Congress, as well as seasoned lawyer? What if he had stepped up to be a surrogate for the President-elect? Yes, that would be former Maryland Governor, Robert Ehrlich.
For Education, what if you could take a former glass-breaking leader of the DC School system, someone who brooked a labor army and city critics to establish a higher baseline for teachers and students, elevating standards, and strongly promoting school choice – in a time and town dead set against her? What if that leader was a Democrat, but understood the value of bold change, block grants for restoring state and local education control, and had made no bones about going toe-to-toe with the national media, a profile that put her on the front of Time Magazine – the caption, “How to fix America’s Schools?”
The short of it is this: The buzz around this Cabinet, and what may be possible, should be read as overwhelmingly positive, for the same reason – and in similar proportion to – mainstream media opposition and distress over the process. It is unbounded by traditional political constraints. Accordingly, the people that this president-elect has the freedom to choose may prove to be among the very best who have recently served. There is, in the Trump approach – which has confounded the media – an unexpected mending of fences with adversaries, crossing of party lines, and search for the “best and brightest.” In this refreshing approach, there is great hope.
As in the early Reagan days, there is a chance to think anew, to recruit leaders who have not served in such posts, are not captured and may not even think themselves in line to serve, but who have the best ideas, unique experiences, high mission commitment, and the best potential for changing how the Federal Government does business.
Together Reagan’s team got things done, restarting a dead economy, cutting the average taxpayer’s burden, reducing the size of Federal bureaucracy, thinning the Federal Register, spurring creation of 18 million jobs, and extinguishing – or converting – many of domestic and international longtime enemies and detractors. As the historical record shows, Reagan and his team – from White House to Cabinet Secretaries – delivered. With the freedom to do that again, let us hope the way ahead is equally clear and prosperous for President-elect Trump.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State, US Navy Intelligence Officer, and served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses, led congressional oversight investigations of the Defense Department 1995-1999, is a former litigator. He writes widely on national security and legal issues.