×

Why Trump needs a 'goon squad' in the White House

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani introduces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally on August 18, 2016 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Brian Blanco | Getty Images
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani introduces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally on August 18, 2016 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Donald Trump won. You lost. That seems like a simple and abrupt message, but it's obviously necessary now that the usual suspect Democrats, leftists, and even plenty of Republican critics somehow feel emboldened to tell President-elect Trump who is and isn't acceptable as he puts together his White House team.

It's a classic case of the losers thinking they can dictate terms to the winners. That's not how it works. But this pushback is likely to produce the opposite result. Call them the "White House Deplorables" or even the "Goon Squad," it's obvious Trump actually needs to put together the most strident and tough Cabinet and advisory team as possible to shut down an unusually intolerant opposition.

It started already with the announcement that Trump had appointed Breitbart News co-founder and top Trump campaign architect Steve Bannon to the post of "senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist." That move has spawned several days worth of hackles from the same Democrats, Republicans, and supposed experts that Trump and Bannon just humiliated in the election.

They've smeared him as antisemitic and racist, and tried to pass off Breitbart as some kind of white supremacist news site. None of that is true, and Bannon is now being defended by people like former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. But the smear is likely to stick.

Of course, the Bannon-haters real beef is that he wiped the floor with them, their candidate and their ideology. And they fear more of the same. They should. Just like President George W. Bush used his campaign architect Karl Rove in the White House and President Barack Obama used Rahm Emanuel as an enforcer, Trump is going to need a tough "goon" like Bannon to cover him in this political climate.

But it hasn't stopped there. The same critics feel justified in screaming bloody murder over reports that Trump might appoint either former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former UN Ambassador John Bolton as secretary of state. You could probably call both of them no-nonsense, politically incorrect "deplorables" who are an offense to the generally accepted notion that the State Department's job is to "make nice" with our shaky allies and staunch enemies alike.

"Trump needs a few controversial people on his team that his critics really hate to take more of the focus off of him. Call it redirecting your opponents' fury or 'good cop/bad cop,' this is a strategy that works all the time."

But Trump needs people like them too, especially now that Saudi Arabia has felt emboldened enough to warn Trump not to follow through on his plans to cut oil imports into the U.S. Sure it's understandable that the Saudis would be worried about that, but just how weak has our country's reputation become that the Saudis feel they can easily make a threat like that with no repercussions? Trump can make a strong argument that those kinds of open challenges to the U.S. won't come too often with Giuliani or Bolton at State. Goons have that kind of effect.

This isn't just about projecting strength abroad. Trump needs a few controversial people on his team that his critics really hate to take more of the focus off of him. Call it redirecting your opponents' fury or "good cop/bad cop," this is a strategy that works all the time. It worked for President Bush when the much-more-disliked Vice President Dick Cheney often ran interference for the commander in chief. And President Obama let then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid take a lot of the flak during the Obamacare bill passage. It's likely to work again.

But assembling a team only a mother could love doesn't have to be devoid of bi-partisan olive branches. If Trump does feel some compunction to reach out to the other side of the aisle, he can do it without without losing any edgy toughness. He could appoint the first woman secretary of defense in Joni Ernst, an extremely gutsy former in-country Army Reserve commander in Kuwait who is now a senator from Iowa. Or he can give a Democrat that job, but do it by picking the tough-as-nails former Senator and Marine Corps officer Jim Webb. Neither Webb nor Ernst is a wilting flower, not even when compared to Bannon, Bolton, or Giuliani.

Trump has a responsibility to make good on his campaign promises. And the backgrounds of the people he puts on his team are not as important as the Trump policies they will enact. That's important because the irrelevant popular vote hysteria aside, Trump just won 30 states and 306 electoral votes. He also won almost every swing state and a some states no one even thought were in the "toss up" category.

Love him or hate him, Trump has won the right to be judged by his policies and to assemble the team he sees fit. The proper time for any push back would be during the Senate confirmation hearings for Trump cabinet appointees. And thankfully, even those raucous hearings do have to follow some sense of order and fairness.

Meanwhile, Trump must address the issues he brought up during the campaign and do so quickly and aggressively. And anyone who has promised to overhaul Washington and "drain the swamp" as much as he did can't hope to come close to achieving those goals with a bunch of nice guys by his side.

Now of course we all have the right to criticize anything in politics. This is not about Free Speech. But Trump must push ahead with his agenda, and not feel cowed by those who lost the election, worked against him during the election, and — most importantly — showed they don't have a clue what so many American voters really want.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.