Another dispatch from the dusty, dangerous political trail by Clint Carson
If nothing else, President Trump has a well-earned reputation for aggressive rhetoric and policy pugnaciousness toward political foes.
Indeed, a frequent sentiment among his supporters is “at least he fights!” But in making the political appointments necessary for taking control of and running the federal bureaucracy, as deeply as it pains me to say this given his other politically assertive instincts, President Trump is derelict in his duty as Chief Executive.
The president has responded today to a Politico article in which de facto surrogate and radio host Laura Ingraham criticizes him on this point, specifically in the context of the ongoing Hurricane Harvey disaster in Texas, saying the government needs more staff.
The president responded:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2017
As a conservative, I’m all about the “reduce size of government” part of his tweet. But in this context, the idea that not filling the political posts (as distinguished from government career jobs) is highly disingenuous.
Every president enters office with roughly 4,000 political posts to fill (only a quarter require Senate confirmation — the rest can essentially go to work once named). These posts are the government’s senior management, or “leadership,” as career bureaucrats generically refer to them. These bureaucrats recognize (and expect!) these posts to provide the general policy direction and day-to-day guidance necessary to do their jobs — obviously as part of the overall effort to execute the policy preferences of the president and his administration. Those in career jobs, the civil service bureaucracy, by definition and law cannot fully execute these functions.
The career bureaucracy exists to implement the policies of the presidential administration, not formulate them. And particularly in the case of a Republican administration, nor would the president want the bureaucracy to take the lead on policy: there are roughly 2.1 million civilian federal employees, and according to a 2015 survey, most of them are Democrats. With 4,000 appointments available to President Trump (again roughly), that’s one political appointee for every 500 bureaucrats. In other words, he has one person he’s hand-selected and upon whom he can almost certainly rely, out of 500, nearly half of whom are opposed to him by party affiliation.
While there are limits to their authority when acting in the stead of political appointees (a situation that occurs in appointees’ absence and is contemplated in the law as temporary, as in that of a transition from a presidency of one party to another), bureaucrats with Democratic sympathies at best cannot be assumed to be enthusiastic about carrying out a Republican president’s program, and at worst, could actively frustrate it. Combine that with either apathetic or other actively politically hostile underling bureaucrats and you have the starter formula for what is more nefariously termed the “Deep State.”
Political appointments, within the federal departments and agencies, are the only generally reliable tools available to a Republican president short of defunding them, which even under unified Republican government (control of Congress and the Executive Branch) is nigh impossible.
President Trump needs every ally he can muster within the bureaucracy to beat back the Deep State and the sheer overwhelming numbers of apathetic and “resisting” bureaucrats.
Not taking advantage of every one, which necessarily means filling all of the government’s politically appointed positions, represents a conscious decision to unilaterally disarm. Further, as a portion of the federal workforce these positions are vanishingly small, particularly in comparison to their disproportionately powerful role in bringing the government leviathan to heel, and better yet, turning it to carrying out the Trump agenda!
Yes, slash the career federal bureaucracy —most of their jobs were created by Democrats to buy votes, and along with federal entitlements, it’s likely one of the next largest drivers of federal spending. But failing to enlist the ready army to fight the war to Make America Great Again in the form of political appointments, I reiterate, represents a dereliction of duty, and is particularly confounding, disappointing, and demoralizing coming from this otherwise politically bold and assertive president.