If Donald Trump's wily presidential campaign strategy encompassed confounding and seemingly counterproductive elements that alienated many demographic groups, then his path to actually taking over the position post-victory seems to have devolved into an outright civil war among key personnel. The press has been left scrambling to figure out what the new president-elect is up to — trying to determine how the balance of power among those closest to him shifts rapidly to favor loyalists; who the targets of dramatic ousters are; and why it appears that a transition team in disarray violated its own ethics rules, as well, according to a report by Politico. Incoming Vice President Mike Pence is now at the helm of the effort, and he's charged with remedying the breach of internal protocol.
Pence himself took over in the role of heading up the transition and installing people into key positions in Trump's impending administration only last week, after Gov. Chris Christie was fired, reportedly because he was not sufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign and because of his role in prosecuting the father of the future president's son-in-law in 2004. Now, Pence has ordered that lobbyists be removed from the transition team as well, news that emerged the day before Politico reported that at least eight of those appointments were found to have broken standards that the ethics code spelled out. That's because they had worked on matters that they had also lobbied within the past year — and, in some cases, continued to lobby for simultaneously.
The apparent oversight — it's most likely that the ethics code was established under Christie's leadership — may be the least of the transition team's worries, though. The group attracted widespread outrage when Trump appointed campaign chairman and former head of the alt-right news site Breitbart as his chief strategist this week. Trump's camp also invited scorn when Trump reportedly requested that his adult children receive top secret security clearance (he's since denied having done this). As of Tuesday, no one from the team had contacted the Pentagon to begin the handoff on national security issues, and one source described a spate of firings of people perceived to be close to Christie as a "Stalinesque purge," according to NBC News.
Still, the revelation that the seemingly ill-prepared Trump team has already violated its own "Code of Ethical Conduct" is concerning. Michael Torrey, for example, was tasked with transitioning the Department of Agriculture for Trump, but he he lobbied the U.S. government in the interest of related organizations like Little Caesars and the American Beverage Association as recently as September, Politico reported. The man on charge of the Energy Department transition doesn't even have that small space of time to separate from his lobbying and governmental work: Michael McKenna is currently a lobbyist for the French utility Engie and power provider Southern Company.
Romper has reached out to the Trump team for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Despite the detailed reports of mayhem within the Trump transition — as well as the previous revelations that Trump apparently was surprised to learn the scope of the responsibilities of president and requires extra tutoring from President Obama — the man at the center of it all is maintaining that it's all under control.
He fired back against a report from The New York Times report that detailed the upheaval plaguing the push to prepare Trump to take over as the most powerful man in the world, and ensure that he has the administration in place to move forward. "The failing @nytimes story is so totally wrong on transition," he tweeted Tuesday. "It is going so smoothly."
Shortly before that, the president-elect tweeted that the process of hiring people for positions within his inner circle was "very organized." "I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!" he wrote, evoking the ethos of a "reality" game show like his own, The Apprentice — not the immensely serious task of forming an effective executive branch.
But there's not much evidence, either before the stunning win or in the week since, that Trump truly does understand the difference. The chaos of the transition and the breach in the team's own ethics code do not bode well for this country or for Trump's ability to lead it.