Team of rivals? Kitchen cabinet? Or Waylon Smithers clones?

The real model for Trump's team is neither Abraham Lincoln nor Andrew Jackson but The Simpson's Mr. Burns with a room full of Waylon Smithers-types.

Ink is spilling fast about Trump’s transition team.

This cnn piece trades on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Lincoln, in which she describes Lincoln’s method of surrounding himself with ambitious opponents whose competing views, taken together, gave him a greater view of the whole as well as more buy-in from competing stakeholders.

And, you know, Lincoln is a comparison Trump can live with.

It does seem there will be a diversity of opinion in Trump’s White House. Correction. Diverse views characterize the people whose names are being mentioned for top spots. This is encouraging in a way, give or take some alt.right views I could live without.

But the meat of the cnn article, along with others including some pieces here at OTB, suggest the transition is chaotic and an open bar party for Trump cronies. If the litmus test for a place on Trump team is pure loyalty to The Donald and unquestioning devotion to whatever may be passing through his mind at a given moment, then any potential  intellectual diversity will be wasted. And then the real model for Trump’s team would be neither Lincoln, nor even Andrew Jackson and his Kitchen Cabinet, but The Simpson’s Mr. Burns with a room full of Waylon Smithers-types.

But I should add this. Underestimating Donald Trump is a habit I find hard to shake. I’m learning it’s a bad habit, a stupid habit. And like many bad habits it impedes one’s ability to operate effectively in reality.

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Michael Bailey
About Michael Bailey
Michael is Associate Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, GA. His academic publications address the American Founding, the American presidency, religion and politics, and governance in liberal democracies. He also writes on popular culture, and his articles on, among other topics, patriotism, Church and State, and Kurt Vonnegut, have been published in Prism and Touchstone. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin, where he also earned his BA. He’s married and has three children. He joined OTB in November 2016.


  1. Jen says:

    It’s certainly interesting to watch. I think it’s entirely possible that he now realizes he is in way over his head and needs to pick people who know what they are doing. That said, he does seem to have a soft spot for blind loyalty.

    A significant number of his “floated” picks are getting push back, publicly, from the very people who would be confirming the appointments. Palin at Interior, Giuliani at SoS. The flip side is that some of the other names being floated (Nikki Haley for Sec. of State, Kelly Ayotte for Defense) publicly opposed him in some fashion and I just don’t see him as the forgive and forget type.

    And, if he resists advice and picks his buddies who demonstrated loyalty and they don’t get confirmed by the Senate, where does that leave us…him openly battling the Senate? I’m pretty much done trying to game this out and am content to sit and watch the fireworks.

  2. Jay Gischer says:

    Trump campaigned in the primaries on, among other things, a war on establishment Republicans. I think he will deliver on that promise.

  3. Just 'nutha'... says:

    Just a passing comment to Jen about “the other name being floated:” I’m not seeing how Nikki Haley and Kelly Ayotte represent better–or even different in quality–choices than the favorites that are getting shot down. I agree that the best approach is probably to sit back, watch the show, and prepare to move to cash equivalents in your market portfolio proactively.

  4. Gustopher says:

    But I should add this. Underestimating Donald Trump is a habit I find hard to shake. I’m learning it’s a bad habit, a stupid habit. And like many bad habits it impedes one’s ability to operate effectively in reality.

    Donald Trump has a history of doing well for himself, but leaving a trail of wreckage around him. I am sure that if he doesn’t kill us all* then Trump properties will be doing very well at the end of his term. I doubt that others will do well.

    (* I hope they give him a fake nuclear football… I don’t want our species to come to an end over a thin skinned man getting into a twitter fight with ISIS or something)

  5. Jc says:

    @Jen: blind loyalty and know what they are doing – Yikes, that has to be the thinnest job pool in existence.

    I think I know the type – seen it in CEOs. yes men and family Trumps all.

  6. CSK says:

    I agree with what Elliot Cohen wrote the other day in the Washington Post: Trump will surround himself with mediocrities (I would speculate worse than medicore) whose distinguishing characteristic is blind loyalty to him. The man is simply too thin-skinned and far too insecure to tolerate anything but unswerving devotion.

    His most frightening trait is how easily he can be manipulated by someone who flatters him, no matter how obviously insincerely. Couple that with his need to retaliate against any perceived insult and you have the makings of disaster. As Gustopher says, the chance of him getting into a Twitter fight with ISIS or Kim Jong-Un is far greater than is acceptable.

  7. I used to think that Trump was the equivalent of the Latin American Caudillo/Coronel. But many caudillos/coroneis don´t hire their son in law.

  8. Jen says:

    @Just ‘nutha’…: Well, I do think that Ayotte and Haley would represent a somewhat more quality choice/decision than the likes of Palin and Giuliani. They have the ability to construct coherent sentences and do not come visibly unglued. That said, my point was more to note that his choices are extremely thin if he limits himself to the loyalty question only–the “team of rivals” concept would include those who disagree with him. IMHO, it ain’t happening.

    As Jc noted above–combining the qualities of blind loyalty and knowing what they are doing would make for an extremely shallow pool of applicants.

    CNN is reporting that Trump will be meeting with Romney over the weekend, potentially to consider him for SoS. This fascinates me.

  9. Jenos The Deplorable says:

    @Gustopher: Donald Trump has a history of doing well for himself, but leaving a trail of wreckage around him.

    Here’s how that is being sold: Trump has always taken care to protect himself and those who are on his team. That’s his family, his employees, his shareholders. Contractors, rivals, and the like — not so much.

    President Trump is saying that now his family/team/employees now include The United States of America, and he wants to do for us what he’s done for himself and his.

    Trump already has more money than he needs, and he won’t get much richer while he’s in office. As the Clintons proved, the real money is in being an ex-president. A popular ex-president is even better, and an ex-president who still holds real influence best of all.

    Trump will be the most powerful man on earth (as the saying goes), so efforts to acquire more will be rather redundant.

    Trump’s biggest strength and weakness is his ego. You’ve heard how his ego is a weakness ad nauseam here. What isn’t discussed is his ego as a strength.

    Trump wants to be seen as… well, let’s use the dude’s own words. He wants to be the greatest president ever, and that’s something he can’t control. He can influence it, but he can’t control it.

    So he’s going to put everything he has into making America greater and more prosperous. That’s how he sees as the best way to secure his legacy. That’s how he wants posterity to remember him.

  10. Jenos The Deplorable says:

    BTW, today Trump met with Mitt Romney, and the speculation is that he is considering Mitt for some kind of role, perhaps even Secretary of State. Romney was not exactly a Trumpette ass-kisser in the election.

    Personally, I think Trump could do better than Romney as Secretary of State, but he also could do a hell of a lot worse. Romney, after all, said in 2012 that Russia was a growing threat to the US, and was thoroughly mocked for that by… oh, yeah, the very same people who couldn’t stop pissing their pants about Putin this year.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jen: I can easily concede that both ladies are more intelligent than anyone named by the Trump people so far (not a high bar to jump, by the way). Still, unless you know something that I don’t (which is likely as I’m just a ig’rant cracker) I don’t see how Kelly Ayotte is any more qualified to be Secretary of Defense than a bagel from Einstein’s. Smarter, but still lacking in qualifications, doesn’t represent a step up.

  12. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos The Deplorable: Keep telling yourself this. And I’m passingly interested in who you think Trump would call on that would be “better” and might actually say yes. I’m low on giggles today as I had very serious, hard working students both today and the day before in my substitute teaching jobs.

  13. Jen says:

    @Jenos The Deplorable:

    BTW, today Trump met with Mitt Romney,

    Close. He did not meet with Romney today, he is meeting with him this weekend, as noted in my comment above. It will be interesting to see if he extends the SoS offer to Romney, and if so, if Romney will take it. Mormons have a strong sense of service to their country. As a reminder, a certain Jon Huntsman answered that call when Obama asked him to serve, and he paid for it dearly–it completely shattered any future plans Huntsman had. Romney may well have to make the same calculation.

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    @Jay Gischer:..a war on establishment Republicans.

    I am extremely curious about your expectations of this war.
    How are the casualties to be counted and what constitutes victory?

  15. rachel says:

    @Jenos The Deplorable: Please save the link to this thread so that when Trump is up for re-election in 2020, you can say “I told you morons so.” Myself, I’m betting Trump will be a bigger disgrace than G. W. Bush was by the time he left office.

  16. Jenos The Deplorable says:

    @rachel: Save your own links, rachel. And note that I said “how it was being sold.” At no point did I say I was buying it.

    It’s not a bad argument. It’s plausible, it plays on Trump’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, and it appeals to both people’s optimism and suspicion.

  17. CSK says:

    Jeff Sessions is Trump’s pick for AG.

  18. Jen says:

    @CSK: Well that is going to be an interesting confirmation hearing…

  19. CSK says:


    Indeed. And a real kick in the teeth to Cruz, who said yesterday he was interested.

    Mike Pompeo (Kansas) is CIA director.

  20. Jenos The Deplorable says:

    Oh, look, Trump’s actually ahead of Obama’s timeline for making nominations and appointments, and they’re three solid picks.

    Must be blind luck or something.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    …and they’re three solid picks.

    Uh huh…Loretta Lynch should send Jeff Sessions some white sheets as a gift for his new position as her successor…I’m sure he’ll be able to cut out holes in the sheets so that he can see…

  22. de stijl says:

    They’re not saying “boo.” They’re saying “Boo-urns.”