Harvard crimson may be a prominent color in the offices of the Obama administration, but that looks to change as President-elect Trump transitions to the White House.
Unlike Obama – who mined the faculties of Harvard and other Ivy League schools to fill his cabinet and top level administrative posts – Trump has so far focused his search for help steering his administration policies on people he is more familiar with: wealthy businessmen and women.
Trump is expected to select billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as his commerce secretary and will likely choose Todd Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs whose father founded TD Ameritrade, as deputy commerce secretary. The president-elect last week named Betsy DeVos, the chairwoman of Michigan-based investment firm the Windquest Group, as education secretary. In addition, Mitt Romney, who before his time as Massachusetts governor was the founder of investment firm Bain Capital, is on Trump’s shortlist for secretary of state.
“Birds of a feather flock together,” Gary Nordlinger, a professor in the graduate school of political management at George Washington University, told FoxNews.com. “Trump wants to surround himself with people who he sees as successful in the real world and he has approached the entire cabinet appointment process as a businessman would.”
The move away from Ivy League academics and toward the titans of commerce appears not just to be one of comfort for Trump, but also to fulfill his campaign promise to root out Washington insiders, lobbyists and liberal elites, whom he sees as the main problem inside the Beltway.
While Trump has been criticized for keeping a number of former lobbyists on his transition team (he argued that selecting lobbyists was the only option he had), the appointment of ultra-wealthy conservatives to cabinet-level posts does align with his distrust of the presumed liberal elites who make up the Obama administration.
During his two terms in office, Obama – himself a graduate of Colombia University and Harvard Law School – filled his administration with Ivy League brethren. From Harvard’s faculty alone, Obama recruited Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and top economic aide Lawrence Summers to name just a few. Of the 22 cabinet-level positions in Obama’s White House, 13 of them are held by people with either undergraduate or graduate degrees – or both - from an Ivy League school.
“Obama is deep, deep down an intellectual,” Nordlinger said. “He is a product of the Ivy Leagues and it makes perfectly reasonable sense why he chooses to surround himself with these type of people.”
Despite his penchant for being the outsider, Trump can’t completely eschew candidates with Ivy League backgrounds – he himself graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ross holds a BA from Yale and earned his MBA at Harvard as did Romney. But he appears to be looking for people whose success lays in fields different than academia.
“Trump’s argument is that while the Ivy League faculty may have a bunch of accolades, they don’t understand real life,” Joe Trippi, a political strategist and frequent Fox News Channel contributor, told FoxNews.com.
It also does not appear that all Ivy League academics are opposed to actually working with the president-elect. Harvard lecturer Carlos E. Díaz Rosillo is helping him with his transition and school officials say that Trump can still find like-minded professors in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
91 percent of donations made by faculty at Harvard in 2015 went to Hillary Clinton, according to the Harvard Crimson.
“To the extent that Harvard is both very committed to acceptance and integration and diversity and also is very committed to fact-driven policy, it’s not a natural fit,” Juliette Kayyem, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who served in the Obama administration, told the Boston Globe. “But I could see, at the agency level, a lot of good reasons for various experts here to join the administration.”
In the long run, whether or not Trump foregoes choosing Ivy League academics to join his administration and instead fills his cabinet with like-minded business people may not matter if he can’t fulfill his campaign promises.
“He’s just replacing one set of elites for a different set of elites,” Trippi said. “The difference is that he says these are people who have real-life experience in actually getting things done. We’re going to see very soon if that rings true.”