In the last 24 hours, all sorts of sources have indicated the Trump transition team is looking at Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp to serve as Energy Secretary. Heitkamp is actually meeting with Trump tomorrow, and it’s also possible she’s being considered for Agriculture Secretary.
Whether or not these reports pan out (Manchin’s office is saying their boss has not been contacted about any job), it shows the Trump people as pursuing a smart if conventional gambit. Manchin and Heitkamp are both up for reelection in 2018 in states very likely to go Republican if they aren’t around (and perhaps if they are). West Virginia and North Dakota are also energy-producing states where even Democrats tend to echo Republican complaints about godless hippie environmentalists threatening good fossil-fuel-industry jobs and America’s energy independence.
Either senator accepting the Energy job would represent a “twofer”: a probable Republican Senate pickup in 2018 (in Heitkamp’s case, actually, an immediate pickup since the governor of North Dakota is a Republican), and the ability to claim bipartisanship in the new Cabinet without running the risk of any views incompatible with Trump or congressional Republicans. And if neither bites — hey, Trump still gets credit for a bipartisan gesture and maybe some goodwill from the flattered prospects.
Back in 2001, George W. Bush, like Trump a popular-vote loser and thus lacking much of a mandate, put the word out that he was considering Louisiana Democratic senator John Breaux for the same Energy Secretary job (and for the same reasons). Breaux didn’t sign on for the Bush cabinet, but was a key Democratic supporter of W.’s big tax-cut bill a few months later. Even if they stay put, maybe Manchin and Heitkamp can prove useful to Trump a bit further down the road.