Ugly and Unprepared, 'Knife Fight' Breaks Out in Trump Transition
"Stay away. Will be ugly," one former Bush official advised after an exchange with Trump's transition team
While Republicans have been outwardly celebrating their victories, President-elect Donald Trump's transition to power is reportedly mired in chaos and infighting as competing factions duke it out to see whose version of "Make America Great Again" will dominate under the new world order.
A "knife fight" is how one source described the backroom disagreements over "key cabinet appointments and direction, both for internal West Wing positions and key national security posts," CNN reported.
On one side is the newly-appointed and highly-controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon, who—as chairman of the inflammatory Breitbart News and a figurehead within the global alt-right movement—is seen as a political outsider who is expected to hold significant influence over Trump's international policy decisions.
On the other side, CNN reported, are "more traditional Republican operatives" such as Trump's chief of staff and former Republican Party chair Reince Priebus.
"A particular challenge," CNN noted, "is lack of clarity about the division of power among Priebus, Bannon, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also has a key role in transition decisions. Another source tied to the transition described the resulting confusion as 'buffoonery.'"
Prominent neoconservative and former counselor to the secretary of state under president George W. Bush, Eliot A. Cohen, who had been an early critic of Trump's, recently penned an op-ed suggesting a new openness to the President-Elect. However, on Tuesday he issued a tweet vehemently recanting that sentiment after an "exchange" he had with the transition team:
After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They're angry, arrogant, screaming "you LOST!" Will be ugly.— Eliot A Cohen (@EliotACohen) November 15, 2016
On Tuesday, the "traditional" Republican flank suffered another blow when Mike Rogers, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced that he would no longer be serving as national security senior advisor to the Trump team, saying: "Our work will provide a strong foundation for the new transtiion team leadership as they move into the post-election phase, which naturally is incorporating the campaign team in New York who drove President-elect Trump to an incredible victory last year."
Rogers' departure is the most recent amid the "Stalinesque purge"—as one source called it—of the team assembled by former transition leader New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was replaced last week by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Commenting on the shake-up, Guardian columnist Trevor Timm wrote:
If congenital liar Mike Rogers is the "voice of reason," it's even worse than we thought https://t.co/C459cCmizU— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) November 15, 2016
According to the New York Times, Pence's takeover has ground the process to "near halt."
Christie "had been preparing with Obama administration officials for months to put the complex transition process into motion. That effort is now frozen, senior White House officials say, because Mr. Pence has yet to sign legally required paperwork to allow his team to begin collaborating with President Obama's aides on the handover."
Another major issue, according to Politico, is that the transition team "has yet to publicly release a code of ethics for itself or for nominees."
In comparison, Obama's transition team "released a code of ethics for transition team members just a few days after the election to limit the influence of special interests. The Trump transition team, meanwhile, is full of lobbyists and has not released such a code."
"Going forward," Politico reported, "sources familiar with the team said they expect the operation to have a more top-down structure, with the president-elect's closest advisers," such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, Pence, Priebus, Bannon, and Kushner "bulldozing much of the former transition leaders' existing work and making Cabinet decisions on their own, in consultation with Trump."
Observers told the news outlet this approach was similar to that of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who "had his own list in his head and he appointed the people he wanted."