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Week In Politics: Trump Makes First Cabinet Appointments


President Obama and Donald Trump are both downplaying their differences this week. In separate Thanksgiving messages, they once again urged the country to come together.


BARACK OBAMA: Thanksgiving reminds us that no matter our differences, we're still one people part of something bigger than ourselves.


DONALD TRUMP: In declaring this national holiday, President Lincoln called upon Americans to speak with one voice and one heart. That's just what we have to do.

SHAPIRO: To talk about just how unified the country might be under a Trump presidency, our Friday regulars are with us again. E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post here in the studio - hi, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: And David Brooks of The New York Times is with us from Philadelphia. Hi, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: So, E.J., when you look at the cabinet appointments that Donald Trump has made so far, what do you think they tell us about the kind of president he's likely to be?

DIONNE: I am reminded of one of Ronald Reagan's great line that he once said the problem with my administration is that the right hand doesn't know what the far-right hand is doing. And here what you have are normal right-wing Republicans, people like Reince Priebus, close to the Koch brothers, a very ideological conservative but a normal politician, Betsy DeVos, a big advocate of vouchers and charter schools at the Education Department. And then you've got Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, General Flynn - I mean, so far there's very little reassurance for anybody who is not on the right, some reassurance for conventional conservatives. And I think that the fight over Mitt Romney, which we'll get to, suggests how much difficulty there'll be in other kinds of voices penetrating this cabinet.

SHAPIRO: David, I wonder if you really see this as right versus far-right, or is there also some sort of alt-right influence? I mean, Steve Bannon cannot exactly be considered mainstream Republican or ultra conservative per se.

BROOKS: Yeah, I'd say pop-right. There's a bunch of head banger, Guns 'N Roses conservatives types.

DIONNE: I was being respectful when I said far-right, you know?

BROOKS: I meant that as a compliment. You know, I regard so far the picks as amazingly coherent with the campaign. This is a populist nationalist candidate, and he's picked by and large populist nationalist people. And I think Steve Bannon put it well. They're going to try to spend a lot of money, make some conservatives very upset with how much federal spending there is in a way to give working-class people jobs and probably a way to get working-class people of different races over to their side. I think that's the vision, to create a multi-racial populist majority. And so far I have to say these are not conventional Republicans. It's populist Trumpian nationalists.

DIONNE: I want to dissent from that in one respect. The New York Times had a headline on its website - Trump Turning To Ultra Wealthy To Steer Economic Policy. This doesn't sound very populist to me. Today's commerce secretary, the names being talked about for treasury secretary, I think there will be populist talk but maybe no populist action.

BROOKS: Just quick one quick point on that. Populists love rich people. They just hate professionals. So they hate journalists, they hate teachers, they hate lawyers, but they tend to like rich people. There's something deeply consistent.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk...

DIONNE: ...Some kinds of populists.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk specifically about the position of secretary of state because the reported divide in Trump's inner circle between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, two of the apparent candidates for secretary of state, seems to reflect a larger divide within the Republican Party, David.

BROOKS: Yeah. If - I mean, of course, I don't want him to pick Mitt Romney because he's a professional, he's calm, he's competent and he does believe in expansive foreign policy. If I were Donald Trump, I would definitely not pick Mitt Romney because it's very easy for Mitt Romney to have have a separate foreign policy operatus in the State Department that would run a dissenting foreign policy from the White House foreign policy. There, I think the populist America-first foreign policy of Donald Trump does run against a potential rival. Of course, I hope he picks that rival because I think Romney's foreign policy is sensible. But that would be the first big break from his campaign if he picked Romney.

DIONNE: And this shows a bit of how bizarre the internal process seems to be. I cannot remember another administration where a major figure in the orbit, Kellyanne Conway in this case, the campaign manager, tweeted out that the Trump base was uneasy with Romney. There was pushback against Romney on Twitter in public. Either she was sending a signal for Trump or she is lobbying from Twitter, something she knows that Trump actually reads. Very, very strange.

SHAPIRO: She said something to my co-host Audie Cornish earlier this week that stuck in my head, which was any time you try to apply conventional techniques to Donald Trump, you're going to be disappointed. We've been talking about the possibility that he'll be populist, far-right, center-right. What about the possibility that he will just sort of abolish political norms? I mean, he hasn't had a press conference since July. He hasn't released his tax returns. He seems uninterested in avoiding conflicts of interests with his international business ties. How dramatically are the norms of American politics shifting here, David?

BROOKS: Well, if the cabinet members are live-tweeting the cabinet sessions, then we know we've got a new world. So far, I have to say he's been a little less raucous than in the campaign. In - since he's in the transition process, there's been nothing outrageously offensive. And the campaign - the transition process has been going more or less normally. And so we'll see how much of that was showmanship in the campaign if whether he settles down from here on out.


DIONNE: I guess we're watching a bit of a different transition process. I'm struck, for example, by his tweet attacking the cast of "Hamilton," his attacks on The New York Times. I think there are two sets of issues here. One set is I think, unlike David, that he's going to pursue some pretty right-wing policies. Those will be fairly conventional, passed by Paul Ryan in the House.

But what I am really worried about is that he steps outside norms about, for example, what he does about his business. If he holds on to his business or just lets his kids run it, this opens up enormous possibilities for conflicts of interest. I worry about how he is going to treat the opposition. Will there be use of government agencies, as he's sort of threatened in the campaign, against his political enemies? I am hoping that if he violates that second set of norms, there will be Republicans out there who'll speak out on behalf of basic rules of politics that protect all of us, no matter what our views are.

SHAPIRO: Quick final thought on the Democrats. Hillary Clinton now has around a 2 million-vote lead over Donald Trump and still lost the Electoral College. E.J., do Democrats have a map problem?

DIONNE: Well, we have an Electoral College problem that when California - if it had as many electors per person as Wyoming, it would have 200 instead of 55. They narrowly lost in Michigan, in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They're coming up in other states but not fast enough to elect Hillary Clinton.

SHAPIRO: We're going to have to leave it there. E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BROOKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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