By: Haley Barbour
Ford’s Theater, where President Abraham Lincoln was shot, today is the home of a museum chronicling Lincoln’s presidency from his election to the final days of his life. There were many exhibits that drew parallels to today’s questions facing the new administration. In particular, I was intrigued by Lincoln’s contentious election and his careful consideration of who would serve in his cabinet. Many of these questions and considerations reminded me of the discussion following the election of Donald Trump in November.
According to the exhibit at Ford’s Theater entitled “A Compound Cabinet” the newly elected president broke from tradition and put many of his political opponents in positions of power in the new administration. This seems common place to us today, for example President Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State after a brutal primary battle. The president elect has announced that a few of his former rivals during the primary will now serve in his cabinet, Ben Carson as nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Rick Perry as nominee for Secretary of Energy.
In his cabinet Lincoln wanted to “bridge party alliances” and appointed members of his own party that significantly disagreed with him. The president elect may also being making larger party considerations in his choices. During General James Mattis’s hearing the general split from Trump on many issues including our relationship with Russia, our relationship with NATO, and the Iran nuclear deal. His stance on these issues are more in line with the Republican establishment than the president elect’s stances. Many other nominees split from Trump on a handful of issues including General John Kelly the nominee for Homeland Security Secretary, and Mike Pompeo the nominee for C.I.A. Director.
Lincoln was facing a country that was deeply divided and he used his cabinet to try to bring together many of the factions across the aisle as well as within his own party. Lincoln’s secretaries John Hay and John G. Nicolay said, “He wished to combine the experience of Seward, the integrity of Chase, the popularity of Cameron; to hold the West with Bates; attract New England with Welles; please the Whigs through Smith; and convince the Democrats through Blair.”
Trump’s cabinet choices have gotten a ton of attention leading up to and during the confirmation hearings. Most of the headlines are about the most controversial of the picks, including Senator Jeff Sessions the nominee for Attorney General and Rex Tillerson the nominee for Secretary of State. But when looking at the entire list of nominees it seems to be a fairly balanced group of Washington insiders and outsiders, moderates and right-wing conservatives, and experienced and newcomers. Perhaps Trump too is looking at the bigger picture when making his choices for the cabinet.
Every president elect makes careful considerations when putting together the new administration. Trump did not have to make these choices as the Union was falling apart, but it is possible that he was looking a similar divisions that helped craft his decisions.