"Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party," Trump advisor and far-right economist Stephen Moore told Republican members of Congress at a caucus meeting.
Well, advisor Moore, meet the Trump transition team.
The leader of the would-be populist working-class party has invited rogues' gallery of insiders - corporate lawyers, investment fund managers, corporate executives and wonks hailing from corporate-backed think tanks - to populate the "landing teams" that are doing the nitty-gritty work of transitioning government agencies from control by the outgoing Obama administration to the incoming Trump regime.
It turns out that nearly three-quarters of the landing teams come from the corporate world or corporate-affiliated think tanks, according to a Public Citizen review.
And, although the Trump team has kicked registered lobbyists off the transition, at least 13 of the 71 landing team members have been registered lobbyists in the past, some as recent as last year.
What does the purportedly "populist working-class" transition team look like? Take a look:
- Paul Atkins is in charge of financial regulation for the Trump transition and on the landing teams for the Elizabeth Warren-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) . He is the CEO of Patomak Global Partners, a consulting firm that advises financial services companies on compliance issues. Atkins formerly served as a Republican commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he was viewed as being largely opposed to regulation.
- Joel Leftwich is the staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry. He was a lobbyist for PepsiCo from 2013 to 2015, and in 2010 was a lobbyist for DuPont.
- There are 10 people on the landing team for the Department of Defense. More than half work now or previously for defense contractors, including Mira Ricardel, a former vice president for Boeing known for advocacy of space laser weapons.
- Michael Dougherty is on the landing team for the Department of Homeland Security. He is the CEO of Secure Identity & Biometrics Association, a trade group that represents the interests of member corporations whose business is security screening technology for airports and border crossings. Previously he worked for Raytheon, a security contractor and, before that, as a Homeland Security official under President George W. Bush.
- Doug Domenech is on the landing team for the Department of Interior. He is director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose self-proclaimed purpose is to "explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels." He also worked for 12 years for the Forest Resources Association, a national trade association representing the forest products industry.
- There are 9 people on the landing team for the Department of Justice, predictably drawn heavily from the ranks of corporate law firms. Two thirds of them are involved in corporate criminal defense work!
There are policies that could be put in place to address the revolving door problem - individuals leaving government and going to work for the industries they formerly regulated, and from regulated industry into government positions. President Obama took important steps in this direction with an executive order at the outset of his administration but only addressed registered lobbyists. The solution is to change the focus from registered lobbyists to those with financial conflicts of interest - people from or who work for regulated industry should not be able to move seamlessly into jobs as the regulators.
But what's going on with the Trump administration is beyond fixing with clear policies. We are witnessing not a populist, working class revolution, but the wholesale takeover of government by an extremist faction of the corporate class.
It has become conventional wisdom in Washington that "personnel is policy" - that the people appointed to key positions will make the policy decisions, and are therefore even more important than any particular policy choice. At no time is this more true than now, with a president-elect with minimal interest in policy details.
So, take a look at the current list of landing team members and their prior affiliations, and you'll see exactly where things are heading under a Trump administration. Trump voters hoping for anti-establishment, anti-insider politics are in for a rude awakening. It's party time for Corporate America.