Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Why Trump’s preoccupation with ‘central casting’ matters

Donald Trump appears to have picked Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson – the White House physician – to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs in part because the president likes him personally. But the president recently said something else about the doctor that offered an important insight about Trump’s perspective.

Trump’s positive impression of the military doctor had staying power, with Trump praising Jackson to donors during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in February.

“He’s like central casting – like a Hollywood star,” Trump said, according to an audio recording of his remarks obtained by CNN.

In other words, the president has an image in his mind of what someone in Jackson’s job is supposed to look like, and Trump is impressed because the physician matches that image.

If this seems familiar, it’s because “central casting” has become a staple of Trump’s presidency. When describing Vice President Mike Pence, Trump likes to say he’s “central casting.” On his Inauguration Day, the president also turned to Defense Secretary James Mattis and said, “This is central casting.” When Trump considered Mitt Romney for his cabinet, Trump’s transition officials said the president believed Romney “looks the part of a top diplomat right out of ‘central casting.’” Rex Tillerson was described as having a “central casting” quality.

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty told MSNBC after the election that “central casting” is “actually a phrase [Trump] uses quite a bit behind the scenes.”

And as the Jackson example helps demonstrate, that hasn’t changed. As we discussed last year, I’ve heard other politicians and other presidents use the phrase, but not quite to this extent. Trump almost seems preoccupied with “central casting,” as if he were the executive producer of an elaborate show.

In some cases, this means unqualified people have been rewarded with important governmental posts, but that’s not the only manifestation of the problem.

In The Atlantic yesterday, Annie Lowrey and Steven Johnson had a striking piece explaining that the Trump White House has assembled “the most preponderantly male team since the Reagan administration.”

Earlier this month, a woman broke a glass ceiling: President Donald Trump announced that he would name Gina Haspel, a career intelligence officer, the first female director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Yet Haspel is something of a rarity, an Atlantic analysis of 2,475 Trump appointees shows. The White House has named twice as many men as women to administration positions. This gender skew is both broad and deep: In no department do female appointees outnumber male appointees, and in some cases men outnumber women four or five to one. Moreover, men significantly outnumber women in low-level positions as well as in high-level ones, with Trump’s Cabinet currently composed of 19 men and five women. Overall, 33 percent of Trump’s appointees are women, compared to 47 percent of the national workforce and 43 percent of the 2 million workers across the executive branch.

As a practical matter, I realize the president isn’t choosing literally every employee in the executive branch, but Trump has taken a hands-on role for a variety of key, high-level posts – and more often than not, this president tends to pick men, many of whom are also white.

How much of this is shaped by Trump’s “central casting” vision? How often does he tap people for key roles because he thinks they “look the part”?