WASHINGTON: US President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that he has picked the tough-talking retired general James Mattis to be his defense secretary as he soaked up adulation at a buoyant Ohio rally that recalled this year’s rough-and-tumble campaign.
The splash of hard news came during a sea of soaring — and then blunt — rhetoric from the 70-year-old Republican billionaire, who was speaking at his first post-election event following days of meetings about forming his cabinet.
“We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told cheering supporters in Cincinnati, referring by nickname to the four-star Marine general who headed the US Central Command, with authority over troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He’s our best. They say he’s the closest thing to (World War II) general George Patton that we have,” Trump said, apparently divulging his pick days ahead of schedule as his transition team had already said there would be no more cabinet announcements this week.
Mattis will require both Senate confirmation and a special waiver of a law that bans uniformed military officers from serving as secretary of defense for seven years after leaving active duty.
At least one Democrat, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, already signaled she will oppose the waiver.
“Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy,” the senator tweeted from New York.
Trump’s surrounding himself with military figures — he has picked retired general Michael Flynn to be his national security advisor and is considering retired general David Petraeus for secretary of state — has unnerved some observers who point to America’s long tradition of civilian government.
‘No choice’ but unify
At the start of his address, Trump launched lofty appeals to unite what he called a “very divided nation” and reject “bigotry and prejudice in all of its forms.”
Americans will “come together — we have no choice, we have to,” he added.
On the economy, “Americans will be the captains of their own destiny once again,” he promised.
He even vowed to try to work with Democrats to end gridlock in Congress.
But the Manhattan property mogul, who defeated Hillary Clinton last month to win the White House, dramatically returned to the abrasive tone that marked his controversial and ultimately victorious campaign.
He savaged the nation’s “extremely dishonest” press, slammed illegal immigration and the country’s refugee program, mocked his critics and vowed to “drain the swamp” in establishment-heavy Washington.
It became a loose, swerving speech that kicked off what his team has branded a “thank you tour” — a victory lap of sorts that will take him to several political battlegrounds including Ohio, perhaps the nation’s ultimate swing state.
“I love you Ohio!” the populist political novice said to a loud cheer from a crowd that filled roughly half the US Bank Arena, which has a capacity of around 17,000. Trump lamented the roadblocks surrounding the venue, which he said had depressed attendance.
The tone was decidedly more boastful than his afternoon appearance in neighboring Indiana, where he visited a company and claimed credit for saving American jobs.
The president-elect, who made guaranteeing jobs for blue-collar US workers a key campaign plank, strode triumphantly through an Indiana factory that makes Carrier air conditioners, trumpeting a deal to keep 1,100 manufacturing positions from moving to Mexico.
He then starkly warned other US firms that they will face “consequences” if they relocate abroad.
“The era of economic surrender is over,” Trump assured. “We’re going to fight for every last American job. It is time to remove the rust from the rust belt and usher in a new industrial revolution.”
‘Buy American, hire American’
During the race, the Republican billionaire threatened to slap tariffs on firms that decamped for places like Mexico or Asia, where labor and other costs are cheaper.
“Buy American and hire American,” he said in Ohio. “That will be our new mantra.”
Carrier has announced it will preserve more than 1,000 jobs and continue to manufacture gas furnaces in Indianapolis, thanks to $7 million in state incentives negotiated with the help of Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Indiana’s governor.
Several hundred jobs will still move to Mexico.
The deal is an unorthodox industry intervention, and Trump signaled he could carry it out again when in office.
“What happened today in Indiana, we’re going to do that all over the country,” he said in Cincinnati.
The White House avoided criticizing Trump’s effort, saying saving jobs is laudable, but expressed skepticism about the strategy of keeping jobs in America one company at a time.
“Mr Trump would have to make 804 more announcements just like that to equal the standard of jobs in the manufacturing sector that were created in this country under President Obama’s watch,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Trump appeared in his element in Cincinnati, said Beth Desch, a recently unemployed 59-year-old at the rally.
“Very upbeat, very optimistic, very happy to be where he is,” she said.
Trump basked in the glow of a campaign-style event, looking back fondly at how he “trounced” his rivals in the most brutal campaign in modern times.
“We did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?” Trump quipped as his supporters cheered.