By Hastings Wyman –
There have not been so many Southerners named to a presidential cabinet since Jefferson Davis. Eight of the cabinet-level members designated by President-elect Donald Trump are from the South. If confirmed, the following prominent Southerners will be holding important portfolios in Washington:
Alabama: US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) for attorney general;
Florida: Vincent Viola, army veteran and owner of Florida Panthers for
Secretary of the Army;
Georgia: US Rep. Tom Price (R) for Secretary of Health and Welfare;
Kentucky: Elaine Chao for Secretary of Transportation;
Oklahoma: Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency;
South Carolina: Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will be US Ambassador to the United
Nations, and US Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) will head the Office of
Management and Budget; and
Texas: Former Gov. Rick Perry (R) will head the Energy Department and
Exxon-Mobil CEO will serve as secretary of state.
Trump’s decision to tap so many political and business figures from below the Mason-Dixon Line has important implications for the South and the nation.
The presence of so many Southerners in positions of power in Washington means that the region will have unprecedented access to decision makers in government, including those who have a say in where and how federal funds will be spent. It also is likely to reduce the adversarial state-vs.-federal government conflicts that have characterized the Obama years.
The Southern presence in Washington will also cement the South’s role as the base of the Republican Party. Not only did Dixie go solidly – minus Virginia – for the New York billionaire, but now leading lawmakers in the South, with networks of supporters back home will help keep Trump and the GOP in power. This will give Trump, who specialized in going over the heads of political establishments, major political muscle in the region, to add to his own populist appeal to many Southern voters.
And by naming Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to his cabinet, Trump opens up a valuable line of communication to Congress.
The large role played by Southerners in the Trump Administration also signals that Trump will try to govern with the same policy directions he stressed in his campaign. Sessions is probably the most ardent foe of undocumented immigrants in Congress. Price, a physician, is one of Obamacare’s strongest critics. Pruitt and Perry are both friends of fossil fuels and hostile to environmental regulations that conflict with economic goals. Mulvaney is what one conservative stalwart calls a “slash-and-burn” foe of excessive federal spending. And Silverson is well-prepared to use this nation’s foreign policy as an economic instrument.
Trump’s cabinet-level picks from the rest of the nation also reflect a commitment to his policy directions – not details, but directions. If you are sympathetic to such initiatives, then Trump’s team should warm your heart.
If, however, you are more liberal, or even moderate, you are right to be worried. Trump has not signaled a major move toward the middle in his appointments, as some observers had expected, or hoped for.