Donald Trump’s Cabinet Choices Deepen an Age-Old Republican Rift

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WASHINGTON — As President-elect Donald J. Trump fills his cabinet with people of wealth and power, he is rekindling animosity between his anti-establishment supporters and more traditional Republicans, a rift that could test the endurance of his new political coalition.

Some supporters, including those closest to Mr. Trump, are warning him that after running for president as a disrupter of the political and ruling classes, he risks charges of hypocrisy by bringing into his administration the kinds of people he vowed to drive out of Washington.

“It’s a delicate dance,” said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins added that no one fully knew what to expect from the new president or his cabinet, or what the role of the conservative movement would be for the next four years.

“Part of this is just establishing what those relationships and those boundaries are going to be like,” he said. “It’s imperative that the Trump administration walks in lock step with the Trump campaign in terms of how their policies match their promises.”

Those expressing unease with Mr. Trump’s appointments, or potential appointments, include two factions on the right. There are the traditional conservatives, like Mr. Perkins, who would prefer hard-liners and are particularly unhappy that Mitt Romney is being considered as secretary of state. And there are the nationalists who are chiefly focused on immigration and trade and recoil at the prospect of Mr. Trump’s being surrounded by Wall Street figures.

Mr. Trump announced on Tuesday that he would nominate Elaine L. Chao — a cabinet secretary under President George W. Bush, a member of many corporate boards, and the wife of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell — to be his transportation secretary. On Wednesday morning, his picks were Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor, for commerce secretary and Todd Ricketts, an owner of the Chicago Cubs and one of the president-elect’s most important fund-raisers, as deputy commerce secretary.

Then, to lead the Treasury Department, Mr. Trump named Steven Mnuchin, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm he pilloried during his campaign as the epitome of a rigged financial system. During the Republican primary contest, Mr. Trump repeatedly brought up the fact that Heidi Cruz, the wife of one of his rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, worked for Goldman.

The apparent contradictions do not seem to bother others on Mr. Trump’s team. Stephen K. Bannon, the president-elect’s chief strategist and the strongest populist voice among his advisers, is himself a wealthy former Goldman Sachs banker and has been supportive of elevating Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Ross, whom he sees as Washington outsiders like him.

But the right-wing writer and filmmaker Mike Cernovich was not so sanguine — especially about Mr. Mnuchin, who not only has a stint at Goldman Sachs on his résumé but also once worked for George Soros, the billionaire financier who contributes to myriad liberal causes.

“Trump’s Treasury Secretary is former Goldman Sachs, former Soros employee,” Mr. Cernovich wrote on Twitter. “WTF is going on at @transition2017?”

“It’s ‘make the establishment and Goldman Sachs great again,’” said Mark Levin, a conservative talk radio host. “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”

Others, while uneasy, expressed cautious hope that the officials would only carry out the populist platform Mr. Trump ran to victory on last month.

“As long as they effectively implement and advocate for the Trump agenda, all this criticism will fade away,” said Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host.

For some conservatives, Mr. Trump’s decision to reach out to Mr. Romney as a possible secretary of state has been even more puzzling. The onetime head of a private equity firm, Mr. Romney was branded by his fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, as a symbol of Wall Street during his losing 2012 presidential campaign. Especially after his criticism of Mr. Trump this year, he is seen as the quintessential member of the Republican establishment.

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and a confidant of Mr. Trump’s, mocked the scene on Tuesday between the president-elect and Mr. Romney: a sit-down over frog legs and diver scallops at a Manhattan restaurant.

“I’m sure, at an elegant three-star restaurant in New York, that Mitt was fully at home, happy to share his vision of populism,” Mr. Gingrich said on Ms. Ingraham’s program. “Every day this hangs out there,” he said, “it’s harder and more expensive to pick Romney.”

The fight over Mr. Trump’s cabinet raises the same essential questions of how to advance conservatism that split Republicans for the better part of the last decade: whether the party was too compromising on its core principles, too sensitive to shifting demographics and too timid to nominate a hard-line true believer. Now that Mr. Trump has won and shattered those conventions, the message from some of the people who feel the Republican Party turned its back on him is unforgiving.

“Trump came in and slayed the dragon,” said Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative activist and agitator against the party establishment. “And now he’s going to go back and breathe life into this dragon that voters rejected? It just doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Mr. Viguerie likened a Romney appointment to President Ronald Reagan’s naming George Bush as his running mate in 1980, a decision that many conservatives still look back on with regret, given the relatively centrist agenda Mr. Bush would pursue during his own term as president. “Romney would basically be a Trojan horse,” he said.

Other conservatives are equally incredulous about the idea of nominating Mr. Romney. “A slap in the face,” said L. Brent Bozell, the founder of the Media Research Center, a conservative group that critiques the news media. David Lane, a prominent Christian conservative, said it would be“disastrous for the Republican Party.” Representative Chris Collins of New York said it made little sense for Mr. Trump to appoint a “self-serving egomaniac” like Mr. Romney. Though Mr. Romney remains under serious consideration for the secretary of state job, Mr. Trump and his team are sensitive to the appearance of hypocrisy and are working to maintain the “blue-collar billionaire” image that he nurtured with working-class voters.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump returned to the Rust Belt region that helped deliver the White House to him. He stopped first at an air conditioning factory in Indiana to announce an agreement that he said would prevent jobs from leaving the country, and then headed to Cincinnati for the first stop on what he calls a thank-you tour, which is planned as a series of campaign-style rallies.

But it is not clear how much his supporters will ultimately care who ends up in the cabinet. His political base has been a forgiving bunch, rarely punishing him for contradictions and backtracking that would hurt other politicians.

Even Mr. Collins conceded that Mr. Trump essentially had carte blanche. “I think they trust, implicitly trust, Donald Trump to make his campaign promises a reality,” he said.

SOURCE: NY Times

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