Trump’s Damned-If-You-Do, Damned-If-You-Don’t Cabinet

Liberals have absolutely no idea what to make of Donald Trump. They don’t understand him, they can’t grasp his thoughts on policy, and they can’t fathom why people gravitate towards him. Moreover, they don’t really care – all they believe they need to know is that they don’t like him.

Perhaps the best example of liberals scrambling for a message was revealed after this week’s committee hearings on Trump’s cabinet appointees. Immediately after Election Day the preferred storyline was that Trump was surrounding himself with lackeys and loyalists who would do his bidding, but not offer any sort of diverging opinions that could temper his excesses. Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote:

“Having won the presidency, Trump is surrounding himself with the staffers, advisers and advocates he grew comfortable with during the campaign. He isn’t reaching outside his circle for the best people, or even knew people. He isn’t surrounding himself with political veterans who have the governing experience he doesn’t, as Barack Obama did when he unexpectedly chose Rahm Emanuel for chief of staff. Trump is sticking with people he already knows.”

One of Trump’s biggest weaknesses, Klein concluded, was that he “surrounds himself with sycophants and yes men,” which he “may come to regret.” 

Fast forward to this week, when the media decided to pull a U-turn. No longer is the story one about Trump being in trouble because he’s building an ideological monolithic group of brown-nosers. Now, after listening to his Cabinet picks express some opinions and ideas that didn’t perfectly align with some of Donald Trump’s state policy positions, the media believes Trump is in trouble because the Cabinet will lack cohesion. Here were some of the headlines:

    • MSNBC: Trump’s cabinet nominees have a plan: disagree with Trump
    • The New York Times: Latest to Disagree With Donald Trump: His Cabinet Nominees
    • Huffington Post: Donald Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Disagree With Him On A Lot Of Things. It May Not Matter.
    • Washington Post: Trump’s Cabinet nominees keep contradicting him

NPR’s Jessica Taylor provides a perfect example of the trope:

But the major theme that emerged in committee hearings was that some of the president-elect’s top would-be advisers revealed some major policy breaks with the future president on issues Trump championed and views he expressed on the campaign trail. . .

It demonstrates the potential constraints the president-elect could run into if he seeks to implement some of the more provocative aspects of what he campaigned on. But it also raises questions of just how much Trump actually meant what he said when he campaigned and about the breadth of discussions he has had with his Cabinet picks on critical policy points. That lack of cohesion could lead to friction in the near future and potential difficulty governing — if the nominees carry their beliefs forward in their roles in the administration.

This type of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t approach to Trump’s presidency has already tested voters patience.It’s become clear that there is only one narrative the media is interested in—one that involves Trump’s failure—and any other storyline will be made to fit that narrative, even if it involves contradicting the previously preferred plot.

So how did Trump, who we’ve been told is thin-skinned, short-fused and unhinged, react to the potential disagreement with his nominees?

“All of my Cabinet nominees are looking good and doing a great job,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”

If anything, what this week has made clear is that Trump—despite the bombast—is keenly interested in picking advisers who aren’t inculcated into the current political groupthink, and more importantly, who aren’t afraid to express opinions that challenge Trump’s beliefs.

That’s the sign of someone who knows what they don’t know. It’s the sign of someone who doesn’t let ego get in the way of a good decision. In short, it’s the sign of a leader.