Donald Trump's skin-deep staffing logic: Cabinet staffers are being chosen based on a "look"

The president-elect privately admits he looks for a “central casting" quality

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 22, 2016 12:50PM (EST)

Donald Trump   (AP/Gerry Broome)
Donald Trump (AP/Gerry Broome)

President-elect Donald Trump's logic for staffing his administration seems to be skin deep — quite literally.

“Presentation is very important because you’re representing America not only on the national stage but also the international stage, depending on the position,” Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller told The Washington Post Wednesday.

This tendency has led the president-elect to make some rather unorthodox choices. While Trump chose friend of Russia Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state — even though he will be the first individual to hold that post without any government experience in modern history — he bypassed former United Nations ambassador John Bolton in part because he was turned off by the neoconservative's walrus mustache.

“Donald was not going to like that mustache,” The Post reported an aide of saying. “I can’t think of anyone that’s really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes.”

Tillerson, by contrast, is clean-shaven and well-coiffed, a visual similarity that he shares with another finalist for the secretary of state job, Mitt Romney.

Similarly, when Trump picked Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis to be his secretary of defense, Trump commented that Mattis was "the closest thing to General George Patton that we have." Although Mattis has an extensive military background, he also looks both like the original Patton and actor George C. Scott, who played the general in the acclaimed 1970 biopic "Patton."

Trump's skin-deep tendencies even came out when he selected Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana to be his vice presidential running mate. Although Trump cited his economic record as his main reason for choosing Pence, he couldn't help but add that "he looks very good." Trump's press secretary is also likely to look very good, according to Trump aides:

People close to Trump said he has been eager to appoint a telegenic woman as press secretary or in some other public-facing role in his White House — both because he thinks it would attract viewers and would help inoculate him from the charges of sexism that trailed his presidential campaign.

But, looking at Trump's history on dealing with women, should anyone be shocked?

And of course, who can forget Trump's infamous put down of Hillary Clinton's appearance when criticized for stalking her during the second presidential debate.

"I'm standing at my podium and she walks in front of me, right," Trump said at a rally in North Carolina. "She walks in front of me, you know?  And when she walked in front of me – believe me, I wasn't impressed."

Then there was his dismissal of Carly Fiorina's presidential candidacy in a September 2015 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

"Look at that face!" Trump said. "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"

The president-elect's mindset was perhaps best summed up to The Washington Post by another anonymous source on the transition team:

"That’s the language he speaks. He’s very aesthetic. You can come with somebody who is very much qualified for the job, but if they don’t look the part, they’re not going anywhere."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump James Mattis Mike Pence Nikki Haley Rex Tillerson