McCormick Said to Be Trump Front-Runner for Defense Deputy

  • Bridgewater president would be deputy secretary for Defense
  • Hedge fund executive served in George W. Bush administration

Hedge fund manager and former Army officer David McCormick is the front-runner to serve as President-elect Donald Trump’s deputy defense secretary, according to three people familiar with the presidential transition.

McCormick, president of Bridgewater Associates Inc., the world’s biggest hedge fund, was eyed earlier as a possible Treasury secretary, a post that ultimately went to former hedge fund investor Steve Mnuchin. If confirmed by the Senate, McCormick will help Trump’s Pentagon nominee, retired General James Mattis, with day-to-day management of a bureaucracy with about two million active-duty and civilian employees and a budget of more than $600 billion a year that’s immersed in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The potential nomination earned high praise on Friday from retired General David Petraeus, who at one point had been seen as a potential secretary of state pick for Trump.

“David McCormick is a superstar,” said Petraeus, who added that the two men had the same thesis adviser as students. “I would stand up and cheer if I heard that David McCormick was going to be the deputy secretary,” he said, calling him a “businessman as well as a former soldier as well as an academic.”

Trump and Mattis were also very impressed by a recent interview with McCormick, according to one of the people familiar with the transition, all of whom discussed the private conversations on condition of anonymity. Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to reverse cutbacks in the Army’s ranks, encountered a kindred spirit in McCormick: In 1998 he published a book, “The Downsized Warrior: America’s Army in Transition,” about the toll cutbacks of that era took on the Army.

Filling Gaps

While Mattis gained his warrior nickname -- “Mad Dog Mattis” -- during a 41-year career in the Marines that took him from rifleman to head of the U.S. Central Command, he has limited experience in the Defense Department’s complex budgeting, personnel and acquisition demands. McCormick could fill those gaps through his background in business and government.

McCormick was a key member of the international team responding to the financial crisis in 2008 when Hank Paulson led the Treasury Department. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as an Army officer in the first Gulf War, McCormick is now at Bridgewater, which is run by Ray Dalio and has about $150 billion in assets.

He would bring four years of government experience, first at the Commerce Department and then as a national security adviser for international economic policy for former President George W. Bush. His work at Commerce included overseeing export controls, which put him at the center of negotiations that led the U.S. to allow India to import nuclear technology.

As undersecretary for international affairs from 2007 to 2009, he urged China to appreciate its currency and boost domestic demand, positions that put him in sync with Trump. But McCormick also spoke out against protectionist policies in the U.S. and abroad, while the president-elect campaigned on vows to impose tariffs and rewrite trade deals that he said cost American jobs.

‘Advancing Values’

Though Trump has called for a less interventionist foreign and military policy, McCormick championed an assertive U.S. role in the world in remarks at the West Point Society of New York in March.

“If we are to promote equality and pluralism around the world, we must walk towards, rather than away from, our unique success in advancing these values at home while still embracing the idea that America is, and always will be, a work in progress,” he said, according to an adaptation of the speech on the “War on the Rocks” website. “If we are to lead the world in fighting genocide and in promoting human rights, we must stop walking away from our global mission, even as we confront our own challenges at home.”

— With assistance by Saleha Mohsin, and Anthony Capaccio

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