If President Trump is re-elected one can expect continuity in policies and tone.  If a Democrat is elected, there will be a sharp change in direction; the president-elect and his transtion team will need to make effective use of the time between Election Day and Inauguration Day so as to "hit the ground running."

Early Preparation

Preparation for a possible transition begins, quietly, during the campaign.  At some point, once their nominations are effectively secured, both major candidates designate people to head up transition planning.  The two most likely transition scenarios are re-election of the President Trump and some degree of revamping of the government, or election of a Democrat and a complete overhaul. 

Although President Trump frequently touts his prospects for re-election, his administration should properly take steps to ensure a smooth transition in the event that does not occur.  There needs to be a point person or committee or council.  An example of how this might work can be seen in the 2016 transition, although President Obama was not seeking re-election.  On May 6, 2016  Obama signed an executive order on "Facilitation of a Presidential Transition" which established a White House Transition Coordinating Council (+). 

After the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic nominee will name individuals to head his or her transition team.  Transition planning activities occur very much in the background, for it would not do for the candidate to be seen as presuming he or she will win.  Nonetheless, as the general election campaign unfolds and fills the news, the transition team sets up offices in Washington, DC and starts work.  Recent transitions, organized as 501(c)(4)s, have grown to be a fairly extensive operations in advance of Election Day.

Transitions used to be less institutionalized and more based on personalities.  A 2010 report by the Partnership for Public Service noted, "The lack of an operational framework to guide the process from pre-election through the president’s first year in office has left the country vulnerable in today’s world."  Congress then passed the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, which provides that the major party nominees receive assistance from the General Services Administration for transition planning, including office space, computers and communications services.1 


Hit the Ground Running

If Trump secures re-election, there will no doubt be a fair amount of turnover in his administration.  For example, in Nov.-Dec. 2004 following President George W. Bush's re-election, nine cabinet secretaries resigned (+).  Despite the turnover one can expect continuity in policies and tone

If the Democrat were to be elected, a very different scenario will unfold which is the focus of this page. The president-elect would face the challenge of building a new adminstration amidst the backdrop of a very divided and polarized nation.  Recall that in the days after the Trump's election, there were hundreds of mostly small, mostly peaceful protests around the country leading up to major protests surrounding the Inauguration. These divisions have grown during the Trump years and will not just disappear.  The attitude of President Trump and his supporters and the balance of power in the Congress will be an important consideration during the transition period. 

A president-elect must turn his or her full attention to preparing to govern.  The intensity of the campaign and the excitement of Election Night, cede to the need to make effective use of the time between Election Day and the Inauguration (+) so as to "hit the ground running."  Amid euphoria and exhaustion, responsibility looms.  Expectations are high.  The one-time candidate must assume a "presidential aura."  

Charles Jones, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, has an interesting way of describing the process.  He notes that the campaign is centered around one person, the candidate.  After the campaign, the challenge is "attaching that person to the government."  The transition requires skilled management.  A certain amount of tension in this period is inevitable.  People who have worked hard on the campaign now see others being brought in to manage the transition.  There is much jockeying for position and resumes proliferate.

The transition office becomes a center of attention as the work of building a new administration accelerates.  Careful attention is given to selecting personnel, learning about the pending issues in various agencies, and figuring out what policy initiatives to advance.  In addition to the high profile White House staff and Cabinet positions myriad sub-Cabinet posts must be filled, including deputy secretaries and agency heads (+). There is no shortage of aspirants for positions in the administration; the transition office will receive tens of thousands of resumes.  There is also no shortage of advice.  Every manner of constituency, interest group and a large number of interested individuals weigh in on policies and priorities for the new administration.

At some point the president and the president-elect will meet.  On Nov. 10, 2016 President Obama and President-elect Trump met for an hour and a half in the Oval Office.   The president-elect will keep up a busy schedule of meetings and events.  For example on Dec. 1 Trump made a high-profile visit to the Carrier plant in Indianapolis; later that day he kicked off his "USA Thank You 2016" tour with a campaign-style rally in Cincinnati, OH (+).  On Nov. 17  Trump held his first meeting with a foreign leader, sitting down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and he engaged in many calls with world leaders.  Meanwhile the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of the transition move forward.  On Nov. 18, the transition office announced the first of the "agency landing teams" which connected with officials in various departments and agencies to facilitate the transfer of power (+). 

Speculation in the media about possible Cabinet picks begins even before Election Day.  Throughout November and December the White House staff and Cabinet take shape.  Typically the president-elect's first announcement is White House chief of staff, and the first Cabinet pick announced is either Secretary of State or Secretary of Treasury.  Trump led with the controversial announcement of alt-right aligned Stephen K. Bannon to be his chief strategist and senior counselor, balanced by establishment aligned RNC chairman Reince Priebus to be his chief of staff.  His first Cabinet pick, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, provoked controversy as did a number of his other picks.  Trump's selection of Secretary of State provided a bit of ongoing drama; many names were floated and the process carried on to Dec. 13, when the transition office formally announced his selection of Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil.  Overall, Trump's Cabinet picks were conservative, white, male and wealthy and included more people without government experience than in past administrations (see building the administration).  If a Democrat is elected in 2020, diversity will be a major focus.

The 117th Congress will be sworn in early Jan. 2021, and Senate confirmation hearings of Cabinet nominees will begin in relevant committees so that the new president can start with key Cabinet members in place.  Each nominee has a team to guide him or her through the confirmation process; there are policy, legal, press and congressional affairs aspects to consider.  Traditionally the Senate will not block a Cabinet pick unless he or she has ethical problems or is not qualified.  Although vetting is intense [PDF], there can be miscues, meaning there may be a nominee or two who ends up withdrawing from consideration.  The incoming administration must take care to avoid too many early flaps which might undercut its effectiveness and support.   

The transition is not only the beginning of a new administration, but the end of an old one.  Handing over the reins of power requires considerable preparation on the side of the outgoing administration.  The new team must be briefed; records must be boxed and filed.  During its waning days, the outgoing administration will also endeavor to get as much done as possible, attempting to produce some last accomplishments to add to its legacy and making a final round of appointments, executive orders, regulations, and pardons.  President Obama gave his farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10, discussing "the state of our democracy" and a number of threats to it and declaring himself "even more optimistic about this country than when we started" (+).

The First 100 Days  [2016  |  2008  |  2000]

Much attention is given to the first 100 days. One hundred is a nice round mumber, but it is arbitrary.  The original first 100 days refers to the start of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's tenure in 1933 during the Great Depression (>), and 100 days continues to be used as a convenient marker to measure a president's early progress.  Just as one cannot judge how a runner will perform in a marathon from the first two miles, one should not draw too many conclusions about a term of 1,461 days from the first 100 days.  Six months provides a better marker.  Nonetheless the early actions of a new administration are fraught with symbolism and can give a sense of how it will operate. 

The new president uses executive orders and presidential memoranda to get his administration off to a good start and fulfill campaign promises (see executive orders and memoranda).  Early on there will be high profile address to a joint session of Congress, which he or she can use to set and highlight priorities and which will be a major event.  Also on Capitol Hill hearings on the president's Cabinet picks continue.  Most are confirmed without too much trouble, but there may be one or two controversies.  On May 11, 2017 Trump's final Cabinet nominee, USTR nominee Robert Lighthizer, was  approved (+).  The Cabinet is only a the tip of the iceberg in building an administration (1, 2).  All told, according to the Partnership for Public Service, there are about 4,100 positions to fill, including roughly 1,200 positions requiring Senate confirmation.Hundreds of positions may remain unfilled through the first year of an admiinistration, and the work of the departments and agencies goes on under the direction of acting secretaries and leadership [PDF].   

Usually the new president and administration enjoy a honeymoon period.  After four years of an administration things tend to settle into a routine.  Under Trump relations with the media have been difficult at best.  If a new president is elected journalists will have new people to cover and lots of news to report.  There is new energy and there are many firsts: the first executive order, first news conference, first Cabinet meeting, first overseas trip, and first legislative push...  News coverage tends to be favorable.  President Trump was an exception in that his administration and the mainstream news media have had antagonistic relations from the outset.

The Parties Recalibrate

Typically the leadership of both national party committees changes after a presidential election.  The president-elect will select the chairman of his or her party.  For the losing side, a number of hopefuls compete to rebuild the party, and there is much discussion about how to move beyond the recent defeat. 

In December 2012, RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced a Growth & Opportunity Project "to grow the Republican Party and improve future Republican campaigns."  A 98-page report containing 219 recommendations was released on March 18, 2013 (+).  During the 2016 campaign there was a lot of talk about how Trump's ascendancy marked the end of the Republican Party, but following the campaign it was the Democrats who had to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.  The work of the DNC's Unity Reform Commission during 2017 allowed for discussion of the party's future (+).

On Dec. 14, 2016 the RNC named its leadership for 2017, tabbing Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Trump for President Ohio state director Bob Paduchik (+) as chair and co-chair.  Additionally on Jan. 12, 2017 Trump announced a small leadership team for his re-election campaign (+), and on Jan. 20 he filed a Form 2 with the FEC.  The campaign did not stop (+).

For the Democrats seven major candidates and several lesser known candidates ran for the position of chairman of the DNC.  At the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta, GA on Feb. 25, 2017 [PDF], former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez came up just short on the first ballot, finishing ahead of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison; he then won on the second ballot (+). 


Notes
.
1.
On Oct. 16, 2010, President Obama signed into law S.3196, the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, providing for the General Service Administration to provide for transition planning resources starting after the nominating conventions.  Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and several other Senators introduced the bill in April 2010 (+), based on recommendations in a report from the Partnership for Public Service.

2. On Aug. 10, 2012, President Obama signed into law S.679, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, which reduces the number of executive positions subject to Senate confirmation.

3. Transition organization...
2016: Trump for America, Inc.Clinton-Kaine Transition Project
2012: Romney Readiness Project, R2P, Inc.
2008: Obama-Biden Transition Project
2000: 2000 Bush-Cheney Transition Foundation




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