Dream Cabinet for conservatives, reality Cabinet for Romney
Going back to 1960, U.S. News and World Report turned out a quadrennial feature speculating on who each of the major party candidates for president would name to his Cabinet. In more cases than not, the speculation was way off from what actually came about.
That did not stop us, however, from developing a dream Cabinet that would be sure to delight conservatives. And, we took the extra step of naming the politically realistic “likely picks” that Mitt Romney’s transition team might make. The caveat stands: any speculation now about a Cabinet of President Romney is just that—speculation.
First, the Dream Cabinet
Secretary of State—John Bolton
No questions needed. The former United Nations ambassador became a right-of-center “rock star” with his spirited salvos against America-haters at the U.N. and for his criticism of the international organization itself.
Secretary of the Treasury—Steve Forbes
The Forbes Magazine publisher who made the flat tax a household word when he ran for president in 1996 is still going strong at 65. His appointment as treasury secretary would send a solid signal that the new president is firmly committed to lowering tax rates and reducing the size of government.
Last year, a group of former GOP House members who were elected with Ronald Reagan dined with Forbes at the Reagan Library and urged him to make another presidential run. One of them, former South Carolina Rep. John Napier, told us last week: “Steve Forbes would bring gravitas to the position of Treasury secretary with his knowledge of finance, his intellect, and his world-wide respect. His appointment would be of the stature and eminence of an Alexander Hamilton or an Albert Gallatin, or a Carter Glass or a Bill Simon at a time when the world economy desperately needs that re-assurance.”
Secretary of Defense—David Petraeus
Soldier-statesman Petraeus, widely hailed for commands in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired from the army and was encouraged to run for President as a Republican. President Barack Obama short-circuited any ambitions the retired general may have had by naming him CIA director. Petraeus could now easily follow the trail blazed by former CIA chief Leon Panetta and go to the Pentagon.
Attorney General—Bob McDonnell
Virginia’s governor, who will be termed out in 2013, is a former state attorney general and was an early Romney booster. He has a strong fiscal track record in Virginia, too.
Interior Secretary—Tim Pawlenty
The former Minnesota governor and (briefly) Republican presidential candidate walked a straight and fair path between environmentalists and the business community, so important for the Bureau of Land Management.
Agriculture Secretary—Rick Perry
For all the criticism he received during his short presidential bid last year, the Texas governor has spent much of his life in agriculture and also served as state agriculture commissioner.
Commerce Secretary—Herman Cain
A natural, and a perfect slot for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and National Restaurant Association president to re-emerge on the national scene.
Labor Secretary—Rick Santorum
In large part because of the fire he drew from economic conservatives for voting to raise the minimum wage and other measures favored by blue-collar voters, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum might just be the best choice to explain Romney policies to labor.
Health and Human Services Secretary—Bobby Jindal
Should Romney win, nearly all Louisiana Republicans expect their two-term governor to go back to Washington and a Cabinet position. Jindal served as an assistant secretary of HHS under George W. Bush.
Education Secretary—Michelle Rhee
The nationally known education reform advocate had a stormy tenure as chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools system, at which time she shut down public schools that were not performing. Her reform ideas weren’t popular in every quarter, but they were taking the system in the right direction.
Veterans Affairs—Gary Sinise or Rep. Allen West
Gary Sinise devotes countless hours to volunteer work assisting veterans as well as entertaining troops through the USO, even though he is best known for playing Detective Mac Taylor in CBS’ CSI: NY and having played Harry Truman, George Wallace, and “Lt. Dan Taylor” in Forest Gump. Newt Gingrich has already boomed him for the Veterans Affairs.
A potential problem here is that Sinise, 56, never actually served in uniform. Another prospect is Florida’s Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a decorated U.S. Army veteran of three wars.
The Real Cabinet could be quite different
The above, of course, is a “dream” cabinet for conservatives. In all likelihood, the actual Romney Cabinet would not include glitterati of the right such as Bolton or Rhee. Even former GOP rivals Cain and Santorum are unlikely to emerge as Cabinet secretaries.
With the celebrated exception of Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” in 1861—in which America’s first Republican president tapped just about all of his nomination rivals for his wartime Cabinet—presidents more often than not pass on those who formerly opposed them for their Cabinet.
A more common example is that of Franklin Roosevelt’s first nine-member Cabinet in 1933: seven were close political associates or friends from New York, and two were outsiders (liberal Republicans Henry Wallace at Agriculture and Harold Ickes at Interior). None of FDR’s nine rivals for the Democratic nomination got anything.
Secretary of State—Robert Zoellick
Romney would be less likely to pick Bolton for State than former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, a close foreign policy adviser with “establishment” connections.
Secretary of Defense—Lindsay Graham
Political considerations could also come into place. For example, if Romney felt great gratitude and wanted to let Arizona’s Sen. John McCain, who would be chairman of the Armed Services Committee if Republicans win control of the Senate, guide him on a defense secretary, he could well choose Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), a close McCain friend and Armed Services Committee member, instead of the universally admired David Petraeus.
Secretary of Energy—Tony Garza
As railroad commissioner of Texas, Garza was part of the body that oversees his state’s large energy supply.
Promoted in the media as a politician with a future, Garza instead left office to become President Bush’s ambassador to Mexico.
At a time when Mexico’s new President Enrique Pena Nieto vows to open Pemex (the public oil and gas monopoly) to competition and to permit private investment in shale, gas and oil, Garza may just be the right person in the right place to work closely with Mexico as well as oversee greater energy deregulation in the United States.
Another possibility for Energy is Joe Kelliher, now of NextEra Energy Resources, subsidiary of Florida Power and Light.
He was Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission chairman under President George W. Bush and before that was senior adviser at the Department of Energy.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Jason Turner
One of the best and the brightest of Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral team, former City Human Resources Administrator Turner applied the tough love policies of welfare reform and reduced the city’s welfare rolls.
Columbia University graduate Turner got his start as a program manager at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Ronald Reagan and, having spent years dealing with municipal bureaucracies from Madison (where he worked for former Gov. Tommy Thompson) to Manhattan, he might be just the person to bring free market-solutions to the problems of housing.
Businessmen who are better known in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times are also quite common picks for the Cabinet of presidents from either party.
And, incoming presidents avoid choices that could engender controversy—such as Bolton, Cain, or Rhee—more often than not.
In the tradition of at least one member of the other party being named to the Cabinet by a president of another, the name that surfaces most on the Washington dinner party circuit as the Romney Democrat is retiring Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, possibly as U.N. ambassador.