Donald Trump sits high in Trump Tower in New York, spending hours on the phone with friends, television personalities and donors to ask if they know people to recommend for his Cabinet.
He joins a daily morning transition meeting with his family and staff, but still maintains the routine that sustained him during the campaign: starting his day at 5 a.m. reading The New York Post and The New York Times, then switching on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” whose co-host Joe Scarborough he once publicly savaged but now often seeks out for advice.
He gets angry when members of his inner circle get too much of the spotlight, as Rudy Giuliani did when headlines about his millions of dollars in speaking fees appeared as the former New York mayor was publicly promoting himself to be Trump’s secretary of state.
And Trump has happily resumed control of his Twitter feed, using it to bash targets in the news media and criticize the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for imploring Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience Friday night, to govern on behalf of all Americans.
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“The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence,” Trump wrote Saturday morning. “Apologize!”
As a parade of job seekers, TV talking heads and statesmen like Henry Kissinger paraded through the lobby of Trump Tower this past week, Trump ran his presidential transition from his triplex on the 58th floor much the way he ran his campaign and his business before that – schmoozing, rewarding loyalty, fomenting infighting among advisers and moving confidently forward through a series of fits and starts.
President Barack Obama, who met with Trump two days after the election, has held out hope that the gravity of the presidency will change the former reality show star. But people close to the 70-year-old president-elect say that he has such long-held habits formed by fame, wealth and the freedom to have done whatever he wanted that they remain skeptical, at least for now, that he will transform to fit the constraints of the White House.
“The presidency may change him eventually, but it’s not going to change him initially,” said Barry Bennett, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign and a Republican strategist. “He’s a man who likes a lot of input from a lot of people, and he’s someone who has an incredible instinct for the American people.”
People close to Trump nonetheless say he is more focused now than he was in the first few days after his surprise victory. He was nervous and jolted, they said, by the 90-minute Oval Office meeting with Obama, and for the first time appeared to take in the enormousness of the job.
He is proud, they say, that he has so rapidly named people for his Cabinet and senior staff, including a group of hawks and hard-line loyalists: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as attorney general, Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., as director of the CIA, and Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, as chief strategist.
“Ahead of schedule, under budget, high energy, trust and loyalty – there’s just a pattern to the whole thing,” said Richard F. Hohlt, a longtime Republican lobbyist. “That’s his mark of success.”
Loyalty, however, goes only so far.
There were initial reports from senior officials within Trump’s orbit that Giuliani, Trump’s most fervent supporter in the campaign’s final weeks, was the leading candidate for secretary of state. But the headlines about Giuliani’s business interests bothered Trump, who was urged by several business leaders and some media hosts to reconsider the option. Suddenly, he arranged a Saturday meeting with one of his fiercest critics, Mitt Romney, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Transition officials say the meeting with Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Trump believes that Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” – the same phrase Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.
Yet Trump loves the tension and drama of a selection process, and has sought to stoke it. A senior adviser described the meeting, in part, as Romney simply coming to pay his respects to the president-elect and “kiss his ring.”
Trump, who has been known to act precipitously against people who have not pleased him, did so again this past week when he removed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, another longtime loyalist, as the head of his transition. People close to Trump say that, among other concerns, he determined that Christie had to go after two former top aides were convicted by a federal jury on all charges stemming from a 2013 scheme to close access lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish a New Jersey mayor who declined to endorse Christie for re-election. And Trump was angered when Christie did not defend him after 11-year-old audio emerged of the candidate boasting about committing sexual assaults.
Trump also likes to surprise, and enjoys the worldwide speculation he sets off with his Twitter posts. And after he became upset by Giuliani’s headlines, his aides leaked the news that he was considering Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina for secretary of state – speculation that has since faded as Romney’s prospects have risen.
Showmanship remains central to Trump, who on Thursday held his first meeting as president-elect with a foreign leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The setting was Trump’s marble and gold, Louis XIV-style residence on the 58th floor, with sweeping views of New York and Central Park. Trump, with Flynn at his side, sat next to Abe under an enormous crystal chandelier as Trump’s daughter Ivanka, looked on.
The formality of the setting contrasted with the freewheeling style that Trump adopts in his cluttered corner office on the 26th floor, where aides, his children and his longtime assistant, Rhona Graff, move busily in and out as he holds court behind his desk. Trump, who does not use a computer or read online, does keep an eye on the television, particularly the now-constant news about himself. Most information he takes in is in person or on the phone.
Trump is worried, his aides say, that he will not be able to keep his Android phone once he gets to the White House and wonders aloud how isolated he will become – and whether he will be able to keep in touch with his friends – without it as president. He continues to discuss with the Secret Service how much he can return on weekends to Trump Tower, and still expects to use the Bedminister golf club and his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, as vacation retreats.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, just five blocks from the White House, could also take on an outsize role in the Trump administration. His children may stay there when they come to the nation’s capital, and there is chatter that it may supplant Blair House, which traditionally hosts foreign dignitaries visiting the president.
But for now, Trump seems most comfortable running the show from Trump Tower.
“I’ve witnessed him as a businessman sitting at the desk; I’ve witnessed him as a potential candidate sitting at the desk; I’ve witnessed him as a candidate sitting at the desk; and I’ve now witnessed him as the president-elect sitting at the desk,” said Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser.
“It’s a comfortable environment,” she added, “but now the stakes are higher.”
Eric Lipton and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.