If Trump simply wants to show how magnanimous he is (he isn’t) or pick Romney’s brain, Romney should certainly give him some advice. Here are 10 suggestions for him to start with:
1. Get out of New York. The appearance that Trump is holed up in a “safe” environment, unwilling to devote himself completely to the new job, is terrible. He doesn’t want to be seen (much as we would prefer) as a hands-off guy who lets everyone operate on autopilot. Most of all, he doesn’t want to give those below him the impression that they are running things.
2. Hire people who will instantly have the respect of people in their building. If a novice gets sent to State, the permanent civil service will run roughshod over him or her. (The Foreign Service tries that even with experienced hands.)
3. Make a decision: The kids either run the business or help in government. They cannot and should not do both. (By the way, Trump is often paralyzed with indecision, so this is probably impossible advice for him to follow. Do you want A or B, Mr. President? Yes!) The old adage that it is hard to fire family is true, by the way.
In addition, keeping ownership of Trump properties and/or letting his kids run them would set Trump up for ethical and legal complications that would give Hillary Clinton the giggles. If he starts out filling (not draining) the swamp, he’ll have lost before he’s gotten started on his agenda and infuriate his supporters who thought he was not going to be corrupt like other pols. Romney should remind him that the “blind trust” he wants to set up is a farce and will cause him and his kids grief. Cut the ties. Sell the assets. Let someone else control them. He’s president, for goodness’ sake! He’ll make another fortune after he leaves office.
4. Don’t hire people who refuse to play well with others. If someone has been a perpetual irritant — someone who never fits in or is constantly blaming others — don’t hire him. (We gave this advice to the voters, but they elected Trump anyway.) The problem child will chase off good people, who won’t want to work with him. He’ll consume your time. He’ll give the press the juicy narrative, namely “infighting!”
5. Don’t hire someone just because you want to talk to him. When you are president, people will take your calls! Trump is picking people for the White House and Cabinet to do the work, to implement what he wants. That is different than what loyalists in a campaign do. He needs people who will immerse themselves in the details and whip the bureaucracy into shape.
6. Don’t hire scandal-plagued people. If they have a track record of financial, political or personal shadiness, it will come out in the confirmation hearings and embarrass the president. The Swamp Drainer in Chief surely does not want to start his term by giving people the sense that they rejected Crooked Hillary only to get Crooked Donald.
7. Get a professionalized communication staff. The White House press secretary and communications director cannot look and sound like campaign flacks. They need to develop credibility, stick to the facts and engender some respect from the media. Trump can go to war with the media every day, like he did in the campaign, but that will make him a failed president. The White House has the huge advantage of stature and authority; picking a talk show host or a campaign spinner sacrifices that advantage. His focus has to be on his own agenda, not on score-settling. And, sorry, no personal tweeting.
8. Don’t be hoodwinked like the last two presidents. Trump shows very little regard for President George W. Bush or Barack Obama, yet he seems bent on duplicating an early error that undermined both: trying to win over Vladimir Putin. The Russian president is not going to be charmed or mollified; he understands strength. Unless Trump wants to be caught implementing a failed “reset” policy, he should go back to the tried and true: Europe, whole and free and at peace. No more election meddling. All borders are respected. In the Middle East, Putin is not our friend. He’s helping Iran, assisting in war crimes, destabilizing our allies and looking at setting up a military presence in the Middle East, something presidents of both parties have blocked. If Putin wins, Trump loses. It is that simple.
9. Avoid overexposure. Yes, we are talking Donald Trump. But Obama made the mistake of being everywhere and talking to everyone; no news or entertainment outlet was too far out for him. He sacrificed the specialness and the stature of the presidency, the excitement generated when the president comes to talk to the nation. The public knows Donald Trump well enough; President Trump has to operate on a different level. (Just as his public remarks since the election have been appropriate for a president-elect rather than a campaigner.)
10. When things go wrong, come clean quickly and completely. The Clintons never understood that. Obama didn’t much either. (Remember how long it took him to give the non-apology/apology for telling us we could all keep our doctors?) And about those tax returns … let’s stop hiding behind an “audit” and put them out there. He’ll be president, so what does it matter what’s in them? The last thing he wants is his tax information eventually to leak out — after someone in his administration has doled out special treatment to a company or bank he’s doing business with. You cannot set up systems to prevent conflicts and corruption unless you know what Trump has, what he owes and whom he is in business with. Put it all out there — even on Christmas Eve. At least that will be behind him.