Trump has reached out to former critics such as Nikki Haley and James Mattis and offered them key Cabinet positions. He’s met with Mitt Romney, one of his fiercest critics, twice. His picks for the heads of such departments as Health and Human Services, Education, and Transportation are knowledgeable conservatives. The pace with which he’s been naming top officials is faster than that of any modern president-elect.
All of these developments have cheered conservatives, who feared that Trump would surround himself with loyalists and spurn help from those who backed his primary challengers. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee to head the Treasury Department, and Wilbur Ross, his choice for Commerce head (both of whom are lifelong New York Democrats), may fit that bill. But they are the exceptions so far.
Trump remains suspicious of many of the advisers who guided both of the former Presidents Bush (both Bushes declined to endorse Trump). “Basically, if your name appeared on a Never Trump public letter or you declared him ‘unfit’ to be president, you can expect your job application to remain in the bottom of the pile,” a key Trump adviser told me.
With the sidelining of the Bush League, others will fill the vacuum of the Trump transition team. Conservative are cheerful at the thought, in large part because the Trump transition team is relying heavily on groups such as the Federalist Society. Among such groups, perhaps the biggest role is being played by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that played a major role in Ronald Reagan’s transition in 1981. Back then, its 1,100-page book of policy analysis, Mandate for Leadership, offered specific recommendations on policy, budget, and administrative action for all Cabinet departments, as well as advice on agencies staffed by political appointees. Reagan gave a copy of the book to each member of his Cabinet at their first meeting. Heritage boasts the 60 percent of its recommendations became reality in some form during Reagan’s tenure.