Analysis: Put away your pitchforks the establishment is back in town

Exxon Mobil CEO and chairman Rex W. Tillerson gives a speech at the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Exxon Mobil CEO and chairman Rex W. Tillerson gives a speech at the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — President-elect Donald Trump barnstormed GOP primaries and left one opponent after another in tatters campaigning on an anti-Washington and anti-establishment platform. Trump joyed crowds with populist promises to “drain the swamp.”

But with pitchfork in hand, Trump knew he couldn’t fill a cabinet with complete outsiders. To have any experience and be a person of repute you have to be part of some sort of establishment.

Yet, he resisted the type of insiders who reeked of Washington. However, Trump selected cabinet choices that have patrons in that beltway establishment.

Enter Rex Tillerson. Until Trump chose him for secretary of state, he was a complete unknown to most Americans. Google searches abounded when Tillerson was initially selected for the Trump cabinet.

The Exxon Mobil CEO is a bold choice. Tillerson doesn’t offend the legions of Trump supporters who resented Mitt Romney’s ardent opposition to Trump in the election. Romney dined with the president-elect in a swanky New York restaurant when he floated Romney as a potential secretary of state.

Tillerson even has credibility with liberals for helping to open the Boy Scouts of America to homosexuals. It was a business decision for an organization Tillerson served as past national president. Either join the country in opening doors to gay men or the organization may cease to be viable.

Yet, it’s the craftiest of moves when you look at who is supporting Tillerson: former secretary of states James Baker and Condoleeza Rice. Both have business ties to Exxon Mobile. And both are poster children of the Washington establishment.

In particular, Secretary Baker.

Any of the rough edges for Tillerson may be smoothed over by establishment types such as Baker or Rice who have sway with both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations committee which will first take up Tillerson.

Indeed, there are trouble areas for Tillerson. He received a friendship award from Russian President Vladimir Putin that will need explanation.

The award was established in March 1994 under Boris Yeltsin and has been doled out to an Israeli basketball coach, a French writer, an Azerbaijani film director and a Chilean philosopher. It’s hardly a cadre of nefarious doers.

It sounds much worse than it actually is.

Tillerson’s selection is a cunning one because it could comfort wide swaths of the electorate for a post that is arguably the second face of the administration even ahead of the vice president.

There may be huffing and puffing on the part of the Democrats about Tillerson but it’s hard to imagine him being kyboshed for legitimate reasons.

And any scuttling of Tillerson’s nomination will have to happen by senators first stepping over Baker and Rice who will make up his offensive line.

The cabinet picks Trump really needs to worry about are those which are natural targets of the far left wing. The labor and education secretary picks come to mind. Both will raise hackles with unions which are the base of the Democratic Party.

It also may be an easier narrative to attack both for being anti-worker or anti-public education.

Tillerson is much more nuanced of a cabinet pick, and one with establishment patrons, making it very hard for the far left to easily pick off.

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