by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The biggest surprise Donald Trump has provided as president-elect is just how conservative a cabinet he is putting together. “This is a more conservative cabinet than Reagan assembled in 1980,” says Ed Feulner, a key Trump transition adviser. As president of the Heritage Foundation at the time, Faulkner provided guidance for Reagan’s choices.
The conservative cast of the nominees thus far is somewhat unexpected, given Trump’s well-known reputation as a non-ideological thinker who has often backed big-government solutions. Plus, Trump was a registered Democrat until 2009. Indeed, Trump’s entire family is largely non-ideological. It was only last August, in a meeting with New Jersey governor Chis Christie, that Donald Trump Jr. ticked off a list of his father’s new positions and said, “Well, I guess that means we’re conservatives!” …
… So why has Trump moved in such a conservative direction since his election? Interviews with several people around him turn up several answers.
1. During the campaign, Trump learned a lot about the country and how its economic vitality had been sapped and its foreign-policy standing eroded during the Obama years. “He now recognizes that the problems confronting the nation require bold reforms, and delaying the treatment will only sap his political capital,” former education secretary Bill Bennett says.
2. The refusal of previous GOP presidential nominees George H. W. Bush, John McCain, and George W. Bush to back Trump in the general election has liberated Trump from obligations; he owes very little to them or their followers. “An entire existing infrastructure of establishment Republicans are not favored to run cabinet agencies as would normally be the case,” a key Trump adviser told me. “Fresh faces, new ideas, and résumés unburdened by special-interest ties move towards the top of the pile.”
3. The viciousness with which left-wing allies of Hillary Clinton and their media enablers attacked Trump persuaded the New York billionaire that there was no making peace with his adversaries. “He is not a traditional conservative, but he sure as hell knows who his enemies are,” a Trump aide told me. “He won’t be forgetting that either he defangs them, or they will defang him.”