Early in Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearings for Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, Sen. Jack Reed asked something that, for most Trump nominees, would be a tough question: What do you think about working with Russia to solve problems?
Mattis’s answer was blunt, and very un-Trumplike.
“I’m all for engagement, but we have to recognize reality,” the general said. “There are a decreasing number of areas where we can cooperate, and an increasing number of areas in which we will have to confront Russia.”
The answer more-or-less directly contradicted the president-elect, who believes that he can make “a deal” with Vladimir Putin. It was also a dynamic that happened again and again. To take just two examples: Mattis voiced support for keeping the Iran nuclear deal in place and refused to endorse moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If you just listened to Mattis talk, and had no idea who the president-elect was, you probably would have assumed that his boss was a relatively hawkish Democrat.
You would have thought, in short, that Hillary Clinton won the election.
But she didn’t. And Mattis — who’s so sure to be confirmed that Sen. Lindsey Graham jokingly referred to him “Mr. Secretary” — will soon have to work for a president whose instincts may diverge with his at nearly every turn.
Mattis’s confirmation will be a breeze. The hard work will start after he takes office.