Here’s the post-election version of a divided America: While the nation’s streets and social media erupted in protest of the Donald Trump presidency, Washington insiders were joining together to embrace him.
Inside the Capitol, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who a month ago was so disgusted with Trump that he said he would no longer defend him, had what he called a “fantastic, productive” meeting with the president-elect. The lobbyists and insiders Trump reviled are angling for influence and jobs. Some have become key members of his transition team.
Outside official circles there’s a very different mood. The half of America that rejected Trump and said it feared for the nation’s future under his presidency launched protests and threats in ways not seen in modern times.
Four of every 10 people in America told a Gallup Poll on Wednesday they’re “afraid” of a Trump presidency. After President Barack Obama was elected eight years ago, 27 percent said they felt that way.
But Obama didn’t insult blocs of people. He didn’t suggest Mexican immigrants were rapists, insult the appearances of well-known women or suggest a ban on Muslims entering the country.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations cited incidents of attacks on Muslim students since the election.
“Unless Mr. Trump speaks out forcefully against hate attacks by his supporters, they will take his silence as tacit endorsement of their actions,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the council’s spokesman.
If President-elect Trump truly wishes to be the leader of all Americans, he must begin unifying the nation by repudiating the type of bigotry generated by his campaign for the White House.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations
Twitter is full of death threats against Trump. Protests have exploded all over the country. An estimated 5,000 people protested outside Trump Tower in New York City. In Chicago, demonstrators marched down the city’s Lake Shore Drive. Police arrested protesters who tried to block a Los Angeles freeway. Hundreds in Baltimore marched to the site of the Baltimore Ravens football game.
At the same time, Washington is quickly learning to love Trump, and he’s loving it back.
“It’s all about power. People in Washington are nice to people with power,” explained John Pitney, a former Republican Party official who’s the author of several books on Washington.
Ryan was effusive after hosting Trump. “Donald Trump had one of the most impressive victories we’ve ever seen,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a strong Trump critic, tweeted that he was “eating crow” after hearing Trump’s election night speech, which Flake termed “gracious and healing.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had called Trump unworthy of the presidency this summer, and she voted for Ryan for president. On Wednesday, said she hoped Trump would work on issues that united the nation and “I pledge to work with him in that effort.”
Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Trump, told the AFL-CIO executive council Thursday she saw an opening.
She criticized Trump for encouraging a “toxic stew of hatred and fear.” But she noted he’d tapped into the frustrations people feel about the economy. “When his goal is to increase the economic security of middle-class families, then count me in,” Warren said. “I will put aside our differences and I will work with him to accomplish that goal.”
Trump and Washington are engaging in a ritual common to the days before a new president takes office. Everyone wants to show they can govern. Lawmakers and lobbyists are wary of being too critical of a president just elected. Hundreds of former and wannabe officeholders see new opportunities to become prominent again. The capital’s roughly 10,000 lobbyists want to maintain their influence.
There are two partners in this tango: the president-elect and the Washington intelligentsia.
Washington’s permanent political class insists it knows the system so well Trump has to come to them. “Every election cycle, we are the bad guys,” said Paul Miller, a lobbyist on health care and transportation issues and founder of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics.
“But the reality is the system doesn’t work without us,” he said.
It’s not about the money. It’s not about the access. It’s about the information we provide.
Paul Miller, founder of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics
Miller maintains that most congressional offices lack the funds to hire many senior staffers, so lobbyists fill the gap.
And so Trump is filling his own Washington knowledge gap by including the very sorts of lobbyists, consultants and insiders he so recently derided. Steven Mnuchin, for instance, is a former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund official. Heading the Trump treasury transition team is David Malpass, former chief economist for Bear Stearns, a failed investment bank.
Trump also is turning to Washington officials current and past as top advisers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., are among the transition team’s vice chairs.
“He’d be well advised to get someone who knows what they’re doing,” said former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, who is providing advice on transportation issues.
Wait a minute, say the dissident voices. Trump, they say, is dangerous. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada warned: “The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.”
“There’s no other way to say it,” said a statement from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal activist group. “The election results were a disaster for what we believe in. Donald Trump is the president of the United States. That’s not a new reality TV show tagline. It’s real.”
Bob Mulholland, a veteran California Democratic strategist, sees the Washington unity fading as Trump reverts to being the campaign-style Trump.
“The holidays are coming up. People in Washington are playing nice,” he said. But he noted that Hillary Clinton was winning the popular vote, and the protests would serve to remind people of that.
“We did get the most votes,” Mulholland said.