For Trump, the transition after the triumph

The New York Times 2016

Donald Trump, the president-elect, was subdued in his triumph on Wednesday, cloistering himself in New York City with a handful of aides and family members as he turned toward the enormous task of assembling a government.

For all his boisterousness during the campaign, Trump was more muted than exuberant in its aftermath, according to people who spoke with him throughout the day. His victory over Hillary Clinton caught even him by surprise: Like Clinton, Trump tracked the race through private polling that indicated he was headed for defeat, and he went all but silent in his apartment on Tuesday night as the returns from Florida turned in his favor.

A startled Trump fielded conciliatory phone calls from political dignitaries, including Republicans who resisted his candidacy, like Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush, and from Democrats with whom he may clash in office, like Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives.

But Trump said nothing in public, and as the political world reeled from his electoral success, the president-elect and his advisers did little to address the array of questions hanging over Trump Tower.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a close ally of Trump’s who had been assigned to lead the transition process, emerged from the skyscraper around 4:30 in the afternoon but rebuffed requests for comment. (“No interviews today,” he said.)

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, emerging from meetings in the early evening, said Trump and his team would soon “move forward to a more specific agenda,” but did not elaborate. “I’ll just say the team has done what transitions traditionally do at this point,” he added.

Team: Up to now, aides to Trump said, the team of advisers working on a potential transition has labored more or less in segregation from the campaign apparatus.

Over the summer, Trump collected a few practiced Washington hands to help him design an administration, including veterans of the first Bush administration and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Among them were Jamie Burke and William Hagerty, both former Romney advisers, and Ado Machida, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Trump remained preoccupied almost exclusively with the campaign and refused to discuss the transition with his aides out of superstition, according to two people briefed on the process.

He took few steps to recruit a conventional team of Washington veterans who might accompany him into government, after the fashion of past candidates like George W. Bush, who assembled something of a national security shadow Cabinet before the 2000 general election.

Trump held a few meetings on Wednesday to spur that process, huddling with a group that included his children; Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Stephen K. Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News Network, who helped steer Trump’s campaign. Trump met separately with a group of aides to Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, his running mate, along with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

First steps: Michael Leavitt, a former governor of Utah who managed Romney’s transition team, said Trump’s transition would probably focus at first on a few key appointments, like naming a White House chief of staff.

President-elect Donald Trump addresses the country after winning the election, around  3 a.m. in New York, Nov. 9, 2016. Trump said that he had received a phone call of congratulations from Hillary Clinton. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Leavitt said he met several times with Trump’s team to discuss the mechanics of transition planning and described it as a “full-blown” operation.

“There are whole series of things that have to happen: getting a team on the field, beginning to lay out the how-to of the commitments the president-elect has made,” Leavitt said. “Right now, they’re going to be focused mostly on personnel and logistics.”

Yet the transition aides in Washington were given a limited mandate for mapping out an administration, people briefed on their efforts said. They were asked to line up potential candidates for Cabinet-level offices, but not to fill out full staff rosters for federal departments and agencies, one person said.

There is no extensive process underway for vetting potential Trump appointees. The names in circulation on Wednesday for the high offices of state were largely drawn from the tight circle of political true believers who surrounded Trump during the campaign: Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York; Steven Mnuchin, the chief fundraiser for Trump’s campaign; and Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who struck up a friendship with Trump.

Within that group, Giuliani may be the most likely to receive a coveted appointment, as a reward for his slash-and-burn campaigning in the general election.

Christie, too, is seen as a candidate for the Cabinet, but his entanglement in a continuing political retribution scandal in New Jersey could make it difficult for him to be confirmed by the Senate.