In recent days, there have been a number of meetings and tappings by the Trump administration regarding various cabinet positions and other appointments.
Many of those he met with were loyal to Trump during the campaign, so a cabinet position as a reward makes sense: Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee all supported Trump early on and were loyal supporters throughout the campaign. Where things get murky is when we look at some of the other names that have been brought forward.
Mitt Romney, Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, and Mark Cuban were certainly not friends of Trump at any point in the campaign. Romney made a 17 minute speech at the Republican primary denouncing every aspect of Trump; from his rhetoric, to his character, to his business experience. He called Trump a phony, a huckster, and a fraud; yet he is now being considered for Secretary of State.
Nikki Haley had been called an “embarrassment to the State of South Carolina” by Donald Trump. She replied to this statement with the ultimate southern insult, “bless your heart”; and yet, she is now going to be Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations (all while lacking any foreign policy experience whatsoever).
Ted Cruz called Trump a “sniveling coward”, “pathological liar”, “utterly amoral”, and delivered an intense rebuke of the then-nominee at the Republican National Convention. Even he has met with Trump privately in Trump Tower, and has been reported as saying he’d “absolutely” accept a Supreme Court nomination. Mark Cuban, who prosaically described Trump as “that guy in the bar who will say anything to get laid”, has been spotted meeting with Trump’s Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon.
Given Trump’s reputation as being a man who doesn’t forget who wrongs him, how does one square this circle?
Trump is likely coopting party opponents who could threaten him in the future, as well as gaining broader leverage over the party as a whole.
Romney, Haley, Cruz, and Cuban have been speculated as potential presidential candidates come the election in 2020. In a very divided Republican Party being led by a man whose political identifications have included independent, Democratic, and Reform, the prospect of a popular figure deciding to pull a “Reagan-76” and challenge a sitting president in a primary race, is a real threat. Indeed, in the case of the notoriously ambitious Ted Cruz, there’s already been open speculation that he’d try to challenge Trump. By bringing these people into his administration, Trump is nullifying them as threats in the future, as well as depriving those factions that want to see his downfall, of champions to back.
Additionally, there is the element of how this enables Trump to assert influence in other areas of the party. Looking to South Carolina, Haley’s appointment to the United Nations means that Trump’s ally – Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster – gets a promotion to the Governor’s Mansion; granting leverage over ardent “Never-Trumper” Senator Lindsey Graham (who went so far as to vote for independent conservative Evan McMullin) .
The defanging of the potentially poisonous fundraising capacity of Mitt Romney, whose potential backing of non-binary candidates such as David French (a conservative backed by Bill Kristol) or Gary Johnson and the Libertarian ticket served as a perpetual threat in the 2016 electoral cycle, would also be a considerable boon to an internal party consolidated.
Then there are those who cannot be coopted or imposed upon. Take the case of John Kasich, who is firmly in control of the Ohio Republican Party apparatus, and has many favors owed him due to his hard campaigning for many senators. He refused to endorse Trump, and, if rumors are to be believed, could not be bribed by Trump, either.
Given that Kasich intended to make a speech on the Thursday after the election about the future of the GOP, and how he was dropping hints to the New Hampshire delegation at the RNC in Cleveland, presidential ambitions for 2020 are very much in the mind of John Kasich.
He is term-limited from remaining in the Governor’s Mansion in 2018; therefore, Kasich’s next step is likely going to be running for Senate in 2018. To stop a Kasich challenge in 2020, Trump would need to block Kasich from the Senate in 2018, and the best way to do that in a state where challenging Kasich would difficult at best, would be to ensure that Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown stumps him.
This might seem unorthodox, but there is little that is orthodox about Trump. The Trump team has already shown an inclination to reach out to populist Democrats, evident by the Bernie-backer Tulsi Gabbard’s name being floated as a potential cabinet pick. Trump and Brown have common cause in their skepticism on trade, and Brown has already been singing soft tunes in Trump’s direction regarding Romney as Secretary of State.
Donald Trump and his advisors are likely sifting through potential appointees with maintenance of power as a key goal in mind. In the eyes of the administration, those who can be coopted will, those who can be promoted shall, and those who can’t or won’t be either must be put down. In a split party still healing from a heated election, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of those who’d seek to widen cracks to their advantage.
* Jacob Linker is a Campus Coordinator with Students For Liberty and the State Chair of Young Americans for Liberty in his state.
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