One week after his surprising election, President-elect Donald Trump is displaying an uneven mix of moderation and extremism in his early appointments.
Trump the populist reached out to establishment Republicans by naming the party’s chairman, Reince Priebus, as his chief of staff. In that role, Priebus will be setting the new president’s schedule and dealing directly with Congress. One member, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has had touchy days with Trump and Priebus will doubtless will help Trump with Congress.
But Trump offset that overture by announcing that Stephen Bannon, the firebrand who took over direction of Trump campaign in August, will hold the post of his top adviser. That seems a big mistake. Bannon ran the ultra-right Breitbart website that issued hard-edged criticism of mainstream Republicans, including Ryan. The New York Times wrote on its front page that “some Republican strategists has assailed Mr. Trump, saying that Mr. Bannon ... would bring anti-Semitic, nationalist and racist views to the West Wing.”
Good grief. That’s a chance Trump — whose campaign was divisive and who seemed to realize in his gracious victory speech and in a moderate “60 Minutes” interview that he needed to tone down his rhetoric — can’t afford to take. And other possible Trump appointments may prove equally controversial: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or the super hawk and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general, a pro-fracking Oklahoman as the energy czar.
Trump has the right to appoint his own team, but the president-elect can make choices in line with a conservative philosophy without appointing people on the most extreme end of the political spectrum.
Trump relishes poking his dissenters in the eye, but he will come to understand that governing is vastly different from running, which is something President Obama doubtless will try to impress upon him.
And Trump’s shown signs, at least, of moderating some viewpoints, from indicating parts of Obamacare will be preserved to a tolerant view of same-sex marriage and assurances he’ll listen to broad advice on foreign policy. He needs to maintain his equilibrium.
For his part, President Obama rightly declined to question appointments or prospective appointments.
“It’s important for us to let him make his decisions,” Mr. Obama said. “The American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see.”