NEWARK — Whenever I talk to Trump supporters, they always say two things: He knows business and he’d have “people around him” to rein him in. A guy who loses nearly a billion dollars in the boom economy of the 1990s is not exactly a star businessman.
And the team? OK, Mike Pence showed in the debate that he’d be a sane, if extremely conservative vice-president. But the rest of the gang does not inspire confidence. In any other year, the collected sins of the thugs, hypocrites, and hacks working on Trump’s behalf would be big news and lead to their banishment. This time, they all seem coated in Teflon.
If he wins, Trump’s likely White House chief of staff, senior advisers, and many of his Cabinet members would be nearly as reckless and dangerous as he is. The bar is high, but some could clear it.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, currently the head of Trump’s transition team, is too tarnished to be attorney general, his first choice after losing his bid to be the GOP vice-presidential nominee. But White House chief of staff requires no Senate confirmation and he is favored for the job. Because Trump has little or no interest in running the government, Christie—when he wasn’t being demeaned by Trump—would have broad leeway to shape the administration along the bully-boy lines that he and his boss have long favored.
I’ve been hanging out lately at the federal courthouse in Newark, where two of Christie’s closest associates are on trial for an act of civic depravity—intentionally tying up traffic at the George Washington Bridge on the first day of school to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie during his 2013 reelection campaign.
On Tuesday, the prosecution’s star witness, David Wildstein, once again charged that Christie lied in denying knowledge of the dirty trick when it was underway, an allegation that neither side in the case has contested. Wildstein has consistently said that he and one of the defendants, Bill Baroni, who the governor had appointed as the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, laughed with Christie about the four-hour traffic jams that trapped ambulances and other first responders when the three men gathered that year on Sept. 11 at Ground Zero. Whether Christie knew of the dangerous scheme (which imperiled ailing motorists) in advance, he was clearly part of the cover-up when he said at a press conference that he thought the lane closings were part of a non-existent “traffic study.”
Politicians, like other people, never fundamentally change, which means Christie would bring his cesspool to Washington to splash around in. The Port Authority, with a budget bigger than most states, became what Wildstein described as a “goodie bag” for the governor’s use. When he wasn’t punishing disloyal politicians, Christie would arrange for Baroni and Wildstein to offer pieces of steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to New Jersey political supporters. Before the scandal broke he intended to give those same goodies to backers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early primary states. Port Authority employees were told they had a “constituency of one”—Christie—and all decisions were to be made with that political imperative in mind.
Trump and Christie wouldn’t hesitate to politicize the federal bureaucracy, turning agencies into his personal fiefdoms. Newt Gingrich confirmed this when he said that stripping civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal workers would be a Trump priority.
Christie denies he’s sending his operatives to Trump, but they’re ending up there anyway. Bill Stepien, who ran his 2009 and 2013 gubernatorial campaigns, is currently Trump’s national field director. During a 2013 press conference when Christie was misleading reporters about the lane closings, one of his aides, Christina Renna, texted a colleague: “He [Christie] just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien [then the governor’s deputy chief of staff] not being involved.” Another former Christie staffer, Matt Mowers, testified that a newly-created governor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs included a special spreadsheet to track which mayors and other New Jersey officials were loyal to Christie. Those who weren’t—who didn’t endorse a governor in the other party—were rebuffed when they tried to get anything from Trenton for their constituents. Mowers, too, now works for Trump, and has already said he’s keeping a list of politicians and reporters he hates.
Another senior White House post would almost certainly be filled by Stephen Bannon, who is the CEO and chief strategist of the Trump campaign. Bannon is staying off TV these days and for good reason. Breitbart News, the scurrilous site he ran until recently, continues to publish racist and anti-Semitic articles. And Bannon, who has a well-documented history of calling women the “c word,” doesn’t want to be reminded on TV that he was charged 20 years ago with beating his wife after a police officer saw red marks on her wrists and neck (the charges were eventually dropped when she missed a court appearance).
Tax avoidance apparently runs in the Trump political family. Bannon set up what appears to be a phony residence in a vacant house in Florida, perhaps to avoid California state income taxes. The law requires residency six months of the year; Bannon apparently lived there rarely, if at all.
It’s not clear who would finally make it into Trump’s Cabinet, as filibusters by Democrats (joined, perhaps, by anti-Trump Republicans) could scuttle some of his nominations. But Trump told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he’d like to appoint former UN ambassador John Bolton as secretary of state. Bolton, who lied about Hillary Clinton in 2012 by saying she faked a concussion to get out of testifying on Benghazi, makes Trump look diplomatic by comparison. With their taunts and abusive rhetoric, the two of them would likely get the United States into some kind of military confrontation within months, if not sooner.
The war would be managed by retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who leads Trump’s short-list for secretary of defense. Flynn is a semi-regular analyst on RT, an English-language Russian TV network that offers thinly-veiled propaganda. Last year, Flynn attended RT’s gala in Moscow and sat with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, worked as an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, who was Putin’s puppet president of Ukraine, among other criminals and oligarchs. Another Trump adviser, Carter Page, is under federal investigation for using his close financial ties to the Kremlin to weaken sanctions against Russia and undermine U.S. foreign policy. A sign of the influence of these pro-Putin advisers came in the Hofstra debate when Trump claimed—contrary to the FBI—that Russia had not been implicated in hacking into U.S. systems.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who served in the Justice Department in the Reagan administration, is gunning for attorney general and might get it. Giuliani has been auditioning for top sycophant and deputy sexist-in-chief, trashing President Obama (“I do not believe that the president loves America”), peddling conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health (“Go online and put down ‘Hillary Clinton illness,’ take a look at the videos for yourself”), and calling Lester Holt biased, while saying of tax-evading Trump: “Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?”
Like Gingrich, another serial adulterer who hopes to help run the Trump administration, Giuliani is brave enough to scale hypocrisy’s heights. The man who let his second wife know he was divorcing her via a news conference at Gracie Mansion is now urging Trump to get tough with Hillary over Monica Lewinsky. Between them, Trump, Giuliani, and Gingrich have nine marriages to Hillary’s one.
I almost forgot the third thing Trump supporters invariably say when explaining why, despite his faults, they will vote for him: Such a nice family! Ivanka and Eric would tend to the family business and of course make sure the Trumps continue to pay no income taxes while dad is president. But Donald Jr. is more public-spirited. A lifetime member of the NRA who has hunted endangered leopards, elephants, and buffalo, Donnie has said publicly that he wants to be the next secretary of the interior.
Rest assured. In Trump’s Washington, he’ll get it.