Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials. For their part, many Republicans reacted to what happened to Mr. Abrams with dismay, leaving them increasingly leery about joining an administration that cannot get past the past.As Mr. Trump brings candidates for national security adviser to meet with him in Florida this weekend, he presides over a government where the upper echelons remain sparsely populated. Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president's choices.
Sometimes, the right thing happens for the wrong reason. Take Elliott Abrams, for example.Abrams, a controversial figure in Republican foreign policy for decades, was poised to become the deputy secretary of state in Donald Trump's administration, but the nomination never came. The president learned that Abrams was openly critical of his candidacy last year, and as a consequence, Abrams would not be welcome on Trump's team.And while I'm generally pleased with the outcome -- Abrams' return to a position of government authority struck me as a very bad idea -- these developments are emblematic of an administration that remains largely empty, in large part because of the president's difficulties. The New York Times reported over the weekend:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is still without a deputy, and Trump hasn't named under secretaries or assistant secretaries. The Times' report added that there are similar problems at a variety of other cabinet agencies, where nominees simply haven't been sent to the Senate for consideration.Republicans may be eager to blast Democratic "obstruction" and partisan delays, but the truth of the matter is simple: Democrats can't block nominees who don't exist.Looking past the numbers, what seems to be the problem here? Why isn't the White House completing this most basic of tasks?Part of the issue is that potential nominees have gotten a good look at Trump and have run the other way. John Harward, for example, the president's choice to replace Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, decided he didn't want to be part of the White House team after watching Trump's ridiculous press conference last week. Former CIA Director David Petraeus withdrew from consideration soon after.But just as important is Trump's expectation that administration officials be personally loyal to him, before and after last year's election. Last week, a top official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development was fired "and led out of the department's headquarters by security" because officials discovered criticisms the official, Shermichael Singleton, wrote about Trump during the 2016 campaign. Ben Carson, the president's choice to lead HUD, said he was "baffled" by the developments.Two days later, the White House fired Craig Deare, the National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, because he'd criticized West Wing dysfunction "at a private, off-the-record roundtable hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for a group of about two dozen scholars."In other words, the Trump administration's personnel troubles are actually getting worse, not better. Under normal circumstances, a president and his team devote time and energy into lining up nominees and appointees during the transition process, but Trump seemed far more interested in practically everything else, including a first-of-its-kind red-state tour in which the then-president-elect hosted rallies in celebration of himself.As of this morning, according to a Washington Post tally, there are 549 key executive-branch positions that require Senate confirmation, and 515 of them are still awaiting a nomination from the White House. That works out to be about 94% of the administration's jobs in which the White House hasn't even nominated someone, better yet helped see that person through the confirmation process.In case this isn't painfully obvious, this is not what a fine-tuned machine looks like.What we're left with is a failing team in desperate need of qualified personnel, but the White House can't exactly advertise the kind of folks they're looking for: sycophants and others who don't mind tolerating the president's bizarre antics.