On his eighth day as the president-elect, Donald Trump met with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, flashed a thumbs-up in a photo with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and got some foreign policy advice from pro skateboarder Billy Rohan, who says the United States could bring about peace by building skate parks around the world.
The next morning, Trump had a 15-minute phone call with Piers Morgan, the British journalist who once hosted major television programs, and was visited by Jeanine Pirro, a prosecutor turned minor celebrity who has a Saturday night Fox News show called “Justice With Judge Jeanine.”
Welcome to the variety show that has become Trump’s informal kitchen cabinet — now webcast daily by C-SPAN.
The president-elect — who has long been entranced by celebrities and cleared his schedule to meet them — campaigned on the promise to do things differently than presidents before him. That pledge is clear in his log of visitors and callers. They include potential Cabinet nominees, longtime supporters, prominent Republicans, more than two dozen foreign leaders and Alex Jones of Infowars, the conspiracy website that claims that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were an inside job.
The presence of so many nontraditional visitors and advisers raises a question: Is this really the best use of the president-elect’s time, especially when his transition team has just undergone a leadership purge and is only now reaching out to many major federal agencies?
“It’s not particularly purposeful, is it?” said Paul Light, a professor at New York University who has studied presidential transitions.
Light and other transition experts said Thursday that they have learned to accept that Trump’s approach to everything is likely to be dramatically different from his predecessors’ — and that’s a major reason many voters selected him. And there are things that Trump could learn from a football team owner, a boxer, a skateboarder and television commentators that could help prepare him for the presidency.
But such contacts are not helpful unless Trump has an express purpose, Light said. Trump’s team did not respond to a request Thursday to detail what Trump discussed with each of the guests.
“If it’s a bunch of people coming by to give him flowers and take a photo, that’s just going to make him feel invincible,” Light said. “What he needs is a dose of reality right now.”
For example: Light suggested that Trump could meet with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and ask how he runs a two-minute drill in the final minutes of a tied game, taking advantage of every second left on the clock. That’s the sort of strategic concentration Trump will need to push tax restructuring and other priorities through Congress early in his term to avoid letting down his voters and losing congressional seats in 2018.
Max Stier, the president of the Partnership for Public Service — which helps guide candidates and agencies through transitions — deemed Trump’s guest list “more eclectic than you would see in years past” and offered additional types of people the president-elect might want to consult. At the top of his list: those who can explain “how the government actually works” and those who have tried to change it in the past.
To gain a full understanding of the government he wants to change, Trump should reach out to a former White House chief of staff, someone such as Joshua B. Bolten, who worked for President George W. Bush, Stier said. To learn to transition from private businessman to elected leader beholden to the people, Stier suggested that Trump talk to former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. And, Stier said, Trump should talk with a former world leader who tried to impose major change, such as ex-British prime minister Tony Blair.
Stier said Trump’s list of formal and informal advisers should display a clear objective — a sense of the direction he wants to take the government.
“I don’t think they’re really sure yet,” he said.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a retired Towson University political science professor who has studied presidential transitions, said there are no rules for whom a president-elect can or cannot meet or talk with. She also said it’s fine for the president-elect to have fun during the transition, as long as he’s moving ahead on selecting White House staffers, settling on rules for picking appointees, starting the transfer of information at the agencies and setting on a clear narrative for his presidency.
One rule of order that Trump broke in his first week as incoming president was to carefully choreograph his communications with other nations. Instead, Trump appeared to take calls as they came in without placing importance on the order. While this stunned many lifelong foreign policy experts, Kumar wondered whether the formality really mattered.
“After all, what was he saying his whole campaign was about?” she said. “Shaking things up and changing the way government does things.”
Late Wednesday, Rohan — the pro skateboarder — came down the elevators at Trump Tower and yelled at reporters: “Trump loves Muslims, too! As-salaam alaikum! Peace be upon you!”
He then explained how world peace could be achieved by building more skate parks. He told reporters that he was impressed with Trump.
“It was the opposite of what I expected,” Rohan said. “You know how you hear about Freemasons and then you meet one and it is the opposite of what you expected? It was like that.”