clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who will be granted their Christmas wishes?

FILE "” President-elect Donald Trump, center, eats dinner with Mitt Romney, right, and Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at Jean-Georges restaurant, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.
FILE "” President-elect Donald Trump, center, eats dinner with Mitt Romney, right, and Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at Jean-Georges restaurant, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York.
Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Tradition suggests that Santa is checking his list to determine who is “naughty or nice." So is President-elect Donald Trump as he selects his Cabinet members and decides who to assail in his late-night Twitter frenzies. We offer our perspectives regarding Utahns under scrutiny by the Trump transition team.

As this column was written, Trump was still pondering his choice for secretary of state. Interest among Utahns intensified as the expanded candidate list included former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. He now competes with Mitt Romney, who has met with Trump twice, for the job. Any chance either of these Utahns will receive his Christmas wish — the most prestigious Cabinet post?

Pignanelli: "The Trump Cabinet selection process feels like a reality show … more like ‘The Bachelor’ … there are awkward moments, a romantic dinner … but eventually somebody is tapped and gets the Rose." — Audie Cornish, NPR Huntsman is an incredible political chess player — especially at the long game. Our former governor endured tremendous mockery for his choices (i.e. accepting a role in the Obama administration, critiquing the GOP establishment, participating in the nonpartisan "no labels" organization, endorsing Trump, etc.). He now has the last laugh.

National trends reveal Huntsman was prescient and is well-placed for a position in the Trump administration.

The ambassador and his father enjoy the Wharton School of Business connection with the president-elect. Huntsman’s public defense of Trump’s telephone discussion with the president of Taiwan only endeared him to transition leaders. GOP rank-and-file appreciated someone willing to challenge the Dragon, further emphasizing Huntsman's abilities. Politicos are speculating that various voices from the U.S. Senate are also promoting Huntsman to clear a path for Sen. Orrin Hatch.

By sacrificing a few pawns at the beginning of the game, Huntsman is about to capture the king and queen.

Webb: I have absolutely no idea what Trump will do. He usually does the opposite of what I expect. Heated debate is, no doubt, occurring among the Trump insiders, many of whom hate Romney. It’s fascinating how the old Romney/Huntsman rivalry is revived with this selection. Romney won the nod to run the 2002 Winter Games and he defeated Huntsman for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. But I’m guessing the third time still won’t be the charm for Huntsman.

This choice could impact Utah politics. Huntsman is clearly the biggest obstacle to Hatch winning an eighth term in 2018. Hatch supporters would like to clear the decks for him, and Hatch has influence with Trump.

But Trump is Trump, and he loves to defy conventional wisdom. So, who knows?

Overall, are there any big surprises or inconsistencies in the Trump nominations and transition so far?

Pignanelli: Anyone surprised by anything coming out of Trump Tower should spend more time outside their cave. Similarly, Trump & Company should expect continued fallout from the appointment of Stephen Bannon, the founding host of controversial Breitbart News. Trump will likely continue with crumbs for both the far right and establishment factions. But as with the last year and a half, the appointments are generating less attention than the president-elect’s incessant tweets.

Webb: Trump is showing no fear of appointing people hated by liberals and environmentalists, who are aghast at his choices for attorney general, education, EPA, labor, health and human services, and others.

Collectively, this team could transform the federal government, and I’m all in favor of that. However, if they overreach and don’t do it smartly and carefully and actually improve the lives of citizens, they will cause turmoil and voters will turn on them. It won’t be easy to dismantle the welfare state, transform health care and dramatically reduce business and environmental regulation.

We’re still watching to see if Utah Trump supporters Don Peay and House Speaker Greg Hughes get key appointments.

Utah legislative leaders recently announced their selections for committee chairs. Anything interesting in these appointments?

Pignanelli: Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Speaker Hughes accomplished a “team of rivals” approach. Many lawmakers who unsuccessfully sought leadership positions, were tapped as chairs of committees. This style is illustrated by the appointment of Rep. Jim Dunnigan and Sen. Deidre Henderson to chair of the House Business Labor Committee and the Senate Rules Committee, respectively. Members of the ultra-conservative and moderate Republican wings received various slots, demonstrating a smart move to avoid the struggles Congress is experiencing.

Webb: Legislative leaders did shake things up with many new chairs who will help shape the legislative agenda. But the committee chairs are all qualified people and we can expect the usual good management of the legislative process.

Utah’s lawmakers are regular folks, holding regular jobs, and they are only in session for 45 days. They perform remarkably well, solving problems and taking care of state needs, while balancing the budget. My big Christmas wish is for lawmakers to step out of their comfort zones and create a properly funded, world-class education system.