Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

To join Team Trump, looks matter more than qualifications

When Donald Trump introduced Mike Pence as his running mate, the then-candidate emphasized the fact that the Indiana governor “looks very good.” Trump had an idea about a vice president’s physical appearance, and he was satisfied that Pence fit the part.

A few months later, attacking Hillary Clinton, Trump said the former Secretary of State didn’t have “a presidential look.” The comment was immediately criticized as sexist, which it was, but this was also a reminder that the Republican has an image in his mind about what a president should look like. He, evidently, saw himself, and not his opponent, fitting the bill. “You need,” Trump said in September, “a presidential look.”

Now that he’s president-elect, Trump has the responsibility of filling an array of powerful federal posts, and as the Washington Post reports, the amateur politician’s preoccupations are quite literally skin-deep: Trump expects prospective officials to “look the part.”
Given Trump’s own background as a master brander and showman who ran beauty pageants as a sideline, it was probably inevitable that he would be looking beyond their résumés for a certain aesthetic in his supporting players. […]

To lead the Pentagon, Trump chose a rugged combat general, whom he compares to a historic one. At the United Nations, his ambassador will be a poised and elegant Indian American with a compelling immigrant backstory. As secretary of state, Trump tapped a neophyte to international diplomacy, but one whose silvery hair and boardroom bearing project authority.
Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump, told the Post the president-elect is “very impressed when somebody has a background of being good on television.” Trump, Ruddy added, is “a showbiz guy,” who cares about “the look and the demeanor and the swagger.”

In other words, the incoming president of the United States isn’t staffing a cabinet, so much as he’s preparing to put on a production. Sure, qualifications are nice, but Trump appears primarily concerned with physical appearance and his own preconceived ideas about what members of his team should look like.

A person familiar with the transition team’s internal deliberations told the Post, “You can come with somebody who is very much qualified for the job, but if they don’t look the part, they’re not going anywhere.”

Trump apparently didn’t like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’s mustache, for example, which put him at a disadvantage among Secretary of State contenders.

In case this isn’t obvious, staffing the executive branch of a global superpower this way is painfully ridiculous. Americans need public agencies and government offices led by capable officials, but we’re ending up with a game-show host in the Oval Office, choosing members of his team as if he were casting a play.

Ultimately, the appropriate response to this is to feel insulted. Trump believes Americans are such superficial fools, we’ll be more inclined to like him and his administration if we’re impressed with Team Trump’s telegenic qualities.

It’s a recipe for failure.