The news that Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state sent shock waves through official Washington. Tillerson, after all, has never served in any elected office or in a presidential cabinet before! Plus, he reportedly has close business ties to Russia!
Both of those facts, of course, make him the ideal sort of secretary of state for soon-to-be President Trump.
Don't believe me? Here's what Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said about Tillerson in an interview Monday on MSNBC's “Andrea Mitchell Reports”: “Rex Tillerson is a very Trumpian-inspired pick because it's somebody who, like Donald Trump, has a career outside of politics and he's somebody who is accustomed to making big deals and making — translating that into big impact.”
Time and time again on the campaign trail, Trump insisted that he had so many — believe me! — decorated business people ready to help him if he were elected president. In fact, he was remarkably consistent on how he knew the best people and how, if elected, he would put them to work. Here's what he said about that in his announcement speech way back in June 2015:
I know the smartest negotiators in the world. I know the good ones, I know the bad ones, I know the overrated ones. You got a lot of them that are overrated. They’re not good, they think they are, they get good stories, 'cause the newspapers get buffaloed. But they’re not good. But I know the best negotiators in the world. I’d put them one for each country. Believe me, folks, we’d do very well.
Days later, he offered a similar take:
I know the smartest guys on Wall Street. I know our best negotiators. I know the overrated guys, the underrated guys, the guys that nobody ever heard of that are killers, that are great. We gotta use those people....
Guys like Jack Welch. I like guys like Henry Kravis. I'd love to bring my friend Carl Icahn. I mean, we have people that are great....
What Trump offered in the course of the campaign was a radical change in the way of doing the business of the American public. That change included — and, in many ways, was typified by — the sort of people he said he would surround himself with if he were elected. He is, quite literally, making good on a central campaign promise by favoring people like Tillerson. And yet, there is a general sense of shock within the political establishment about the idea that someone with Tillerson's background might be the fifth most powerful person in government.
Much of this consternation is built on the political establishment's inability to fully grasp that the old rules of “how things are done in politics” are simply not operative with Trump. As he has made clear over and over again, Trump simply see no rules, or, if he does see them, he chooses not to acknowledge that he is governed by them.
He likes Tillerson. Tillerson is a titan of industry. That's all Trump needs.
But, for all of Trump's flouting of the established political order, he can't totally ignore it. After all, Tillerson — and almost all of the rest of Trump's Cabinet — needs to be approved by the Senate. And, in Tillerson's case, there are already signs of dissent among Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which needs to give him preliminary approval before a full floor vote.
Tillerson might be up for a real confirmation fight. But, to anyone surprised that Trump stuck with Tillerson, you must not have been paying attention to what the president-elect has been saying for, oh, the last 18 months or so.