Trump’s Hires Will Set Course of His Presidency

WASHINGTON — “Busy day planned in New York,” President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Twitter on Friday morning, two days after his astonishing victory. “Will soon be making some very important decisions on the people who will be running our government!”

If anything, that understates the gravity of the personnel choices Mr. Trump and his transition team are weighing.

Rarely in the history of the American presidency has the exercise of choosing people to fill jobs had such a far-reaching impact on the nature and priorities of an incoming administration. Unlike most new presidents, Mr. Trump comes into office with no elective-office experience, no coherent political agenda and no bulging binder of policy proposals. And he has left a trail of inflammatory, often contradictory, statements on issues from immigration and race to terrorism and geopolitics.

In such a chaotic environment, serving a president who is in many ways a tabula rasa, the appointees to key White House jobs like chief of staff and cabinet posts like secretary of state, defense secretary and Treasury secretary could wield outsize influence. Their selection will help determine whether the Trump administration governs like the firebrand Mr. Trump was on the campaign trail or the pragmatist he often appears to be behind closed doors.

But there could be a parallel battle for Mr. Trump’s soul in foreign policy. Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, a retired career intelligence officer who is Mr. Trump’s closest foreign-policy adviser, is a candidate for national security adviser, according to an internal transition document obtained by the conservative news site The Daily Caller, as is Stephen J. Hadley, who served in that capacity for Mr. Bush.

Meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he looked forward “to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.” Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday, Mr. Trump said he looked forward “to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.” Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Mr. Hadley, who might also be considered for defense secretary, pushed Mr. Bush to undertake the troop surge in Iraq and is closely identified with the military interventionism of that administration. A key figure in the Republican foreign-policy establishment, Mr. Hadley had a hand in Mr. Bush’s second inaugural address, in which he called for the United States to be an evangelist in spreading democracy — something Mr. Trump has flatly rejected.

General Flynn, a registered Democrat, has criticized the neoconservative policies of the Bush administration for leading the United States into quagmires like Iraq. “They’ve gotten us into mess after mess for the wrong reasons,” he said, echoing Mr. Trump’s harsh criticism of Mr. Bush during the Republican debates. And like Mr. Trump, General Flynn is withering about the foreign-policy establishment of both parties.

It may seem counterintuitive for Mr. Trump to recruit a Bush administration veteran. But Peter D. Feaver, who worked on President Bush’s national security council and now teaches at Duke University, pointed out that Mr. Obama had campaigned “vociferously against the Iraq surge, and then asked the architect of the surge” — Robert M. Gates — “to stay.” Mr. Gates, as defense secretary, later persuaded Mr. Obama to deploy a similar surge in Afghanistan.

“You can say one thing in campaigns, and mean it,” Mr. Feaver said, “and in personnel matters, do the opposite.”

The contest for top economic posts does not expose the same ideological fault lines as those for the White House or national security jobs. But it does raise red flags, given the anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street sentiment that Mr. Trump stoked during the campaign.

Several of the candidates on his short list for Treasury secretary come from Wall Street, including Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner who was the finance chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign, and Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase. People close to Mr. Dimon said he was not interested in the job.

Another candidate is a conservative Texas congressman, Jeb Hensarling, who has called for the repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, the banking regulations passed after the financial crisis, during Mr. Obama’s first term.

The least predictable source of influence on Mr. Trump remains Mr. Obama. For all their differences, and the bitter words they flung at each other during the campaign, the two share traits. Both won the presidency as outsiders, and both hold their party’s foreign-policy establishment in contempt.

With Mr. Trump lacking elective-office experience or the political coterie that accompanies establishment candidates to Washington, administration officials said Mr. Obama would probably spend more time with him than was typical for other incoming and outgoing presidents.

And Mr. Trump, some outsiders predicted, would respect the advice of a president 15 years younger, whose path to the White House was nearly as improbable as his.

“If you’re looking at things from a hiring point of view, as Trump does, Obama could have done anything he wanted,” Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University, said in reference to Mr. Obama’s career options. “That has to impress Trump.”