So now we know who we'd probably be getting as Treasury secretary if we elect Donald Trump as president: Trump's billionaire buddy Carl Icahn, another one of the world's richest men, with a reputation for ruthless business dealing.
Okay, so not exactly who I'd want as Treasury secretary. But I'm glad Trump at least has the decency to let us know a little more about what we'd be getting in his administration. Frankly, I'd like to see more candidates tell us who they would appoint to key Cabinet positions.
Who'd run their defense department? Who'd head their council of economic advisers? Who'd be their national security adviser? Who'd be their secretary of state? These positions matter, and who presidential hopefuls choose can have consequences for how they run their administration.
This is also an important reminder that when we pick a president, we're not just picking one person to be a god among men. We're also picking a whole team of advisers whose opinions will ultimately shape key presidential decisions. Contrary to the mythology that the president is the superhero who knows all and decides all things alone, the president sits atop a giant bureaucracy, and only makes a few really hard calls. There's just too much to know. Mostly the president delegates, and relies on his or her advisers.
In a law review article titled "Mr. Presidential Candidate, Whom Would You Nominate," Duke Law professors Stuart Minor Benjamin and Mitu Gulati make a more detailed case for pre-announcement of key positions. Among other things, they argue:
The choices made would give us important information about the potential president. Is he willing to take risks by nominating potentially controversial candidates? Does he choose people with lots of government experience or outsiders? Does he seem more comfortable with people of a certain temperament?
For true outsider candidates like Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson, it seems especially important for us to know who would run their administration. They don't have much of a public record to run on, or much experience in government. Trump has at least been candid in saying that he'd turn to others for advice, given that politics is new to him.
Even consummate insiders like Clinton and Bush will rely on advisers. That is the nature of being president. There is too much to know. One has to delegate. Of course, for them, we sort of can guess who their advisers will be, since there is a quasi-permanent establishment of Clinton and Bush advisers who are all hanging around Washington, waiting to return to their old jobs.
Understandably, presidential candidates might not be eager to announce their Cabinet and agency head picks ahead of time. For one, this kind of specificity would expose their picks to the ruthless gauntlet of press coverage, and perhaps also undermine the ultimate confirmation process. For another, it could alienate insiders who all think they have a shot at a prize Cabinet or agency post — better to keep everyone guessing and thus keep everyone's support.
Still, like many things that will probably never be revealed to me, it would be nice to know.