Is President Trump Being Played by Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush?

Conservatives have been gratified by some of President Trump’s Cabinet choices but alarmed by others. Observers who remember the first Reagan administration may find parallels between the two presidents’ situations – Cabinet picks who went on to undermine the president’s agenda.  Are the very establishment Republicans whom Trump ran against trying to out-maneuver him?

The most obvious area of similarity is education. Candidate Reagan promised to eliminate the recently created U.S. Department  of Education (USED), but as it turned out, his selection of Terrel Bell as secretary of education effectively nullified that commitment.

Bell had once testified in support of the bill to establish USED.  But upon his nomination Bell reversed course and professed to agree with Reagan that USED should be abolished. His subsequent tenure at the department, though, reflected his underlying desire to prevent, as one of his colleagues put it, the “right-wing ideological nuts” from prevailing on education policy.

Despite Reagan’s objections, Bell used his authority as secretary to appoint a commission to assess the federal role in education. The commission’s report (A Nation at Risk) concluded that the public school system was broken, and without a larger federal role in education, it couldn’t be “fixed.” Bell then drove a national campaign to publicize the findings and build support for USED.  By this clever maneuvering he was able to save the department – and undercut his boss’s avowed intention to diminish or eliminate federal involvement in education.  In fact, as one commentator observed, Bell “left [USED] . . . healthier and more resistant to White House meddling than it had been when he signed on.”

Will history repeat in the Trump administration?  During the campaign Trump repeatedly promised to end the Common Core national standards and restore local control over education. He took every opportunity to ridicule Jeb Bush’s opposition to both these goals.  President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, currently claims to be “not a supporter” of Common Core – as Terrel Bell claimed to oppose USED.  But, like Bell, DeVos has a history that belies her claim.  According to Michigan education activists, she and her organizations there were influential in defeating attempts to free their state from the national standards.

DeVos is also closely aligned with Bush and his preferred policies (such as increased student data-collection and replacement of teacher-led instruction with digital training). Not only has DeVos donated generously to his foundation, but she has also served on its board. And it’s worth noting that at the GOP convention, DeVos cast her vote not for Trump but for Common Core-supporter John Kasich.

The individuals whom DeVos is reportedly considering for top staff positions not likely to toe the conservative line. Reportedly, the USED deputy secretary position may be awarded to Allan Hubbard, an Indiana businessman who generously supported individuals and organizations devoted to imposing Common Core.  Hubbard serves on the board of directors of the strongly pro-Common Core Lumina Foundation and was a major donor to Common Core spokesman Tony Bennett (the Indiana state school superintendent whose enthusiasm for the national standards provoked his ouster by irate Hoosiers).  Other pro-Common Core, pro-progressive-education heavyweights, such as New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera and former Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek, have been mentioned as possibilities for top jobs.  And the new senior White House education adviser, Jason Botel, gushed in a previous job at how “excited” he was about Common Core.

These are the people whom DeVos will count on to fulfill the president’s anti-Common Core, pro-local control agenda?

These developments suggest that Trump’s education agenda is headed for a quiet burial at the hands of political appointees, just as Reagan’s was. And unless the grassroots who relied on Trump’s education promises can make enough noise to get his attention, the golden opportunity he has to be their champion will disappear.

There is a further parallel between the Reagan and Trump dissident-appointee scenarios. The other Reagan Cabinet member who pursued a different agenda –  to the point of threatening Reagan’s goals in other areas – was Secretary of State Alexander Haig.  Haig finally resigned and was replaced by George Schultz, who by all accounts placed Reagan’s agenda – which led to the end of the Cold War — above his own.

Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, similarly raises alarm bells with many Americans. Tillerson has been described as a corporatist, comfortable in the swampy world of deals and unlikely to let principle get in the way. He’s also infamous to education activists as a Common Core bully, implicitly threatening the Pennsylvania governor if he allowed his state to replace the national standards. Tillerson succinctly expressed the utilitarian, workforce-development view of education when he described children as “defective products” of the education system if they couldn’t be immediately put to use by the system’s corporate “customers.”

While K-12 education wouldn’t be officially part of Tillerson’s portfolio as secretary of state, he could have significant influence on global education policy through the State Department’s work with the UN Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A man of this children-as-widgets mindset at the State Department could further undermine Trump’s education agenda.

Trump should also be wary of congressional sabotage. Establishment Republicans in Congress have dismissed grassroots warnings that Obama’s signature education bill— the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 — impedes Trump’s education agenda.  They say the law has already restored local control in education – a laughable claim, easily debunked (see here and here) —and so will probably resist Trump’s agenda to legitimately return education policy to the states. Trump was elected precisely to confound these establishmentarians and to crush their predictable attempts to dupe him.  The crowds who turned out for him, and gave him perhaps his biggest applause lines on this issue, desperately want a hero.

Does President Trump realize the threats to his education legacy that are being planted by his personnel choices and by congressional “frenemies”?  The education agenda of President Reagan was doomed by adversaries within his own administration.  Will Trump allow the same thing to happen to him?  Who’s the alpha dog here?  Jeb & Company?  Congress?  Or President Trump?

11 thoughts on “Is President Trump Being Played by Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush?

  1. Spot on analysis! Vice President, Pence is also a main figure in the betrayal of our children and our future as the first “rebrander” of Common Core in Indiana. He was in charge of the transition team and bears the burden of these disastrous decisions which will undermine the promises made by President Trump.

  2. Trump is and will betray us on the issue of education. The only thing left for us to do at this point is to STARVE THE BEAST. Parents are the problem and they are the solution. The problem because they will probably not have much interest in doing what must be done, STARVE THE BEAST by getting their kids out of the system and letting it implode. The solution because only the parents CAN Starve The Beast. If we could get 30% of all kids out of the system believe me THAT will get their attention. I know for a fact that Trump is being undermined, deceived and isolated from the truth on the issue of education.

  3. I live near GR, Michigan. I don’t think you know enough about everything the Devos family has done for homeschoolers, charter schools, ( check out the Grand Rapids Aviation Academy and Potter’s House Charter School in GR) and private schools. Local colleges private and public have received generous donations

    The have built half of West Michigan with their generousity.

    It is sad to watch a nation question motives, vilify, and fabricate stories about a decent, kind, and moral family.

    1. You are militantly ignorant and blinded by money. Most crime families were generous too. Not saying Betsy DeVos is from a crime family, but she has worked with Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, and George Soros to steal the hearts and minds of our children with Common Core. And please explain which stories are fabricated in your mind.

  4. The basics of this article are on target about parallels between Reagan and Trump, but there’s more to the story. After Terrel Bell, William Bennett became Secretary of Education. He was there to have Bill Kristol as his chief-of-staff, so Kristol could then be VP Dan Quayle’s chief-of-staff with Alan Hubbard as his deputy. At his confirmation hearings, Bennett told Ted Kennedy he was “no kamikaze pilot” re eliminating the USDOE. Conservatives in the department hoped he would have simply used Sen. Moynihan’s placement in the Congressional Record of many liberal newspapers’ editorials in 1979 opposing the establishment of the department, but Bennett did not. Re Botel, he also gave $ to the Obama campaign in 2008, and he supports Black Lives Matter. Schultz is not pure, as in 1985 he was responsible for the Soviet-American Exchange Agreement, including Soviet educators helping design American curricula. He and Condoleeza Rice tutored George W. in foreign policy to become president, and W. joined Ted Kennedy to give us the disastrous “No Child Left Behind.” George W. picked Rod Paige as his Secretary of Education, and in 2003 Paige said they were glad to be rejoining UNESCO because that would allow them to make our children “citizens of the world” (like Obama also said he was doing). In the Reagan administration, we had worked hard to get us out of UNESCO (see my 200-year chronology of education to understand why). About the alpha-dog, one insider said DeVos was a “Jeb-like pick.” I should soon have an article published titled “Trump Can Fulfill Reagan Desire” about reversing Carter’s 1979 establishment of the USDOE (I wrote the first draft of Reagan’s first published essay on education).

  5. Sorry to sound conspiracy theorist like, but I believe the administration is being set up for a Mike Pence presidency. Trump won the deal (ego stroked!) and he’s probably collecting tons of cash for being the red herring (even though he’s orange). I believe that once everything is in order, Trump will commit his final impeachable blunder so that Pence will take over the White House (all planned of course). If you look at the order of who becomes next “in charge”, they are all alike in their philosophies. Betsy was selected because she shares the same right wing, religious views as Mike Pence. They want to funnel all those tax dollars into Private Religious schools and put the “Christ back in Christmas” in a very scary way. This isn’t about Trump the puppet, this is about Pence the puppeteer! This is about a very right wing christian movement that has been lurking in the shadows for a very long time. They want to make America great again all right, by taking us back 50-60 years in time.

    1. Trump is not a shill. He might not finish his term but it will be because they assassinate him. He WILL NOT get impeached. They didn’t impeach Obama for many counts of Treason so a new precedent has been set. You cannot impeach a President because you don’t like him or he does things you don’t like. So far all he has done is undo the unConstitutional actions of Obama. No grounds to impeach him and there won’t be any grounds. Murdering him is more an option than impeachment. And they would just love to get Pence in the Presidents spot. I always felt that Trump needed an insurance policy when he picked his VP and Pence is clearly not that insurance policy. He should have gone with Michelle Bachmann or Ron Paul (although I don’t believe he would be interested at this late stage in his life). But you get my point.

  6. Some of you people are just plain uninformed and ridiculous. I cant tell where many of you get your daily information. Devos has done alot and I think she can do alot for the countries education system. Why not just give her a chance? have none of you ever in your life just asked for a chance to prove people wrong? i know i have and i was fortunate to get that chance and I proved myself worthy. Many people just shoot down and judge others before they even get a chance to fly. Its all speculation.

    As of President Trumps success so far? well the DOW is up over 20k, the market has made 2.1 Trillion so far, hes cracking down on immigration, fighting to secure our borders while liberals trying to take them down, hes brought 227,000 jobs already, hes saved the American people over 700million on the F35 and Airforce one deals, he has met with many CEOs and decision makers of a lot of huge industries like the drug companies, manufacturers, small businesses, high tech industry, hes standing up to countries that have been taking advantage of American and Americans for decades and he has put a very bright light on all the rats that in capitol hill and they are angry and scattering!… I think hes off to a damn good start and its only week 3!

    chill out people and allow things to progress. The Democrat party is in disarray, its been reduced down to a handful of nutty, extreme politicians. They need to be focusing on the seats there going to lose in 2018 not obstructing people who are trying to make america great again!

  7. Try as I may, I can find nothing in the internet search engines about deVos’s education philosophy beyond her robust support of school choice. There is a good start. But there is so much more to education. Begin with Common Core. I find conflicting info on DeVos’s position on Common Core. We in the public lack access to her education beliefs. Or at least I can’t seem to discover it.

    1. Reply to jayniemarie: Re Common Core, you might look at my 11-part series beginning at When I was in the Reagan administration, we had a saying that “personnel is policy,” so the people under Betsy DeVos will be very important (I wrote the first draft of President Reagan’s published essay on education reform issues, and I will soon have published “Trump Can Fulfill Reagan Desire”).

  8. Trump formally announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015 and for the past two years he has spoken to the American people about the VISION he has for these United States. Trump is a business man and he is going to manage this nation from a business perspective. He is going to hire and surround himself with the brightest and best business mind and not politician that corporate America has to offer. If you guys really think that Devos, Tillerson or anybody in his administration is not going to follow the VISION he has lay out to the American people then, you have not been paying attention and need to read “The Art of the Deal” consider this as well. Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and National Security Council/Assistant to Bannon Sebastian Gorka from Breitbart is perhaps the most POPULIST from his administration. If anyone DEVIATE from the VISION I can almost guarantee you base on his writing that TRUMP WILL KNOW and he will not hesitate to REPRIMAND or FIRE THEM!!! Trump’s contract with the American Voter should give you confer. His 100-days action plan to “Make America Great Again” is almost complete. He had 18 agenda and has already accomplish 12 of those. If that does not give you a glimpse of hope about his commitment to the American people then I have nothing else to say peace.

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