As the United States presidential race has narrowed to two major party candidates, the attention of the media and electorate will shift toward the general-election campaign. What may be less evident in the intense focus on campaign strategy is what each candidate is doing to prepare for the transition into office. Although it often happens discretely, candidates begin planning for their presidential transition long before the election, and they don’t do it alone. The people candidates turn to for advice say a lot about the way they will make decisions for the nation and who will be influential if they win the election—whether it’s family members, as with John Kennedy in 1960, leaders of major think tanks, as with Ronald Reagan in 1980, or lobbyists, as with George W. Bush in 2000.
The formal, post-election transition period occurs over the 70 or so days between the November election and the January inauguration. But because the president-elect must make thousands of critical decisions about the organization of government, personnel, and policy, planning starts early.
In the past, Washington traditions required candidates to begin planning secretly; campaigns worried that the press and opponents would criticize early planning as arrogant and presumptuous. When George W. Bush tasked his long-time friend Clay Johnson with assembling a list of potential appointees to his White House staff a year before his electoral victory in 2000, for example, no press announcement was made.