It’s no surprise that Donald Trump’s kids are playing an integral role in his transition, but the choice to have them serve on his transition team is unnerving, and it presents an important choice for the president-elect: Are they going to be helping to run his business or helping to run the country?
Blood is thick, especially for a man who has acknowledged having no other real friends, and Trump is certainly not the only politician to have family members in the inner ring of the inner circle. John F. Kennedy relied on his brother, and even named him attorney general in the time before an anti-nepotism law prevented such an unwise arrangement. If you doubt the importance of Hillary Clinton’s role in her husband’s administration, just ask Al Gore. George W. Bush kibitzed in his father’s presidency, and Nancy Reagan was a behind-the-scenes force.
But the primacy of the Trump children is unsettling not simply because of their number — together Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, Donald Jr. and Eric account for a quarter of the transition executive committee — but because, like their father, they lack any experience in government, at any level, along with any particular policy expertise.
Trumpsters reading this — if anybody these days reads pieces with which they might disagree — will say that is precisely the point: Who needs a team that understands how Washington works, if the diagnosis is that it isn’t working and the goal is to blow it up?
That’s facile. To manipulate the levers of power, you need people around you who understand where they are, and how and when to deploy them. Trump wouldn’t pick someone to oversee construction of his latest tower who had never supervised even a minor home renovation. Trump’s reliance on his children bespeaks an insularity that is concerning in any leader, but particularly one who comes to the job with those same deficits.
And then there is the matter of conflicts of interest. How Trump can manage to avoid conflicts of interest between his presidential role and his massive business holdings is particularly complicated, given the illiquidity of his assets and the centrality of the brand name to his net worth.
Trump has said that he will put his children in charge of his business. This is not a blind trust — it’s one in which the president retains 20/20 visibility into matters affecting his bottom line. Americans would have only his word to assure them that presidential decisions will not be influenced by financial considerations.
Now Trump is setting up a situation in which the very individuals he has said he will tap to avoid future conflicts are integrally involved in helping to staff his administration. The Trump Organization has business interests that touch on an array of cabinet agencies — Housing, Commerce, Transportation and State, to name just a few.
What happens when the Trump kids, having played a role in picking the leaders of this department, need a favor, or oppose a regulation? You might say that Trump administration officials might feel beholden to the Trump Organization whether or not Ivanka was on the transition team, but that is hardly comforting.
And having having relied on them for the transition, is Trump about to build a wall (a Chinese one, not Mexican) between his administration and his children once he takes office, or does he plan to continue to seek their advice? The latter course is extremely unwise. If he wants to keep the kids on as advisers, he should find someone else to mind the shop. If he has them run the business, he needs to keep them out of affairs of state.
Wearing two hats doesn’t work — even if both say “Make America Great Again.”