Less than two years into his administration, President Trump is in search of his third Chief of Staff. This is emblematic of the single largest problem plaguing his White House and hamstringing the implementation of his agenda: personnel. The president ran on a platform of orthodox American republicanism, but that offended the recent vintage sensibilities of the US branch of the globalized ruling class. As a result, he always had a thin bench from which to draw, at least if he restricted his search to Beltway apparatchiks as he inexplicably did.
Thus did Trump kill his legislative agenda by making an ill-fated deal with Paul Ryan that brought Reince Priebus into the White House as his Chief of Staff. Priebus’s most noteworthy professional accomplishment up to then, and, in fact, even now, was to have attached himself to Ryan. Priebus was not up to the job.
Following Priebus was John Kelly, a former four-star Marine Corps general who is everything Priebus was not: accomplished, disciplined and goal oriented. But he failed too, primarily because he was not political. That’s a necessary feature in a general, it’s a fatal flaw in a Chief of Staff. So bad is it, that there is no more absurd analogy which would provide a striking illustration of how foolish it is to have an apolitical Chief of Staff.
Jacob Rees-Mogg recently reminded Spectator readers of George Canning’s famous, but too often unheeded dictum: ‘If the comparison must be made, if the distinction must be taken, men are everything, measures comparatively nothing.’ Rees-Mogg explained, ‘In the end, the only way to change the policy is to change the person…’ For Trump, the change is upon him. The bumbling Priebus is gone and the officious but ineffective Kelly is on his way out. Rather than offer names, I will suggest those traits which President Trump should require in his next Chief. The job is supremely political. It is the Chief of Staff’s responsibility to ensure that the president’s agenda is advanced on all fronts and that that the White House staff – everyone from the National Security Council to the Domestic Policy Advisors – are in lockstep with the principal. If they aren’t, they need to leave and it is the Chief’s job to know this and show them the door. Accordingly the next Chief must have the skill to both guide Congress, a co-equal branch, and to bend the sprawling government’s sprawling bureaucracy to the president’s will. They are part of the executive branch and work for him after all.
Last week, Tucker Carlson offered a tart but helpful critique of President Trump’s administration. He said the president’s ‘chief promises were that he would build the wall, defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn’t done any of those things.’
Carlson continued by saying that Trump ‘knows very little about the legislative process, hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t surrounded himself with people that can get it done, hasn’t done all the things you need to do, so it’s mostly his fault that he hasn’t achieved those things.’
With this in mind the criteria for whom to hire becomes very simple: who supports and can implement the agenda? No ifs, buts, maybes, sometimes, and whatabouts. And definitely no recent converts. The next Chief of Staff must have the following qualities:
1. Unequivocal support of the America First agenda as part of a broader restoration of American constitutionalism. This means:
a) An immigration policy that puts the rights and interests of American citizens first and builds the wall.
b) Economic and trade policies that favor increased innovation and the expansion and security of the middle class. This is the only way to end the High-Low vs Middle class warfare that have destroyed the political consensus necessary for longterm peace and prosperity.
c) Ending the moral imperialism and unwinnable foreign wars of the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama era.
d) Returning power to state and local governments at the expense of unelected, unaccountable federal bureaucrats.
2. Personal loyalty to the president. Until Trump was elected this was never a controversial point, but the Chief of Staff must submit to the president and act as his agent, advisor, and confidant. Thomas Cromwell is a good role model who did Henry’s bidding and ultimately paid the highest price. But the country was better for his service.
3. The Chief must be a sharp, aggressive political operator who understands both D.C. arm-twisting and national electoral politics. There is an election in less than two years and the new Chief will necessarily contribute to the success or failure of the campaign.
4. No more low-rent opportunists. The president has a history of surrounding himself with people like Michael Cohen and they cause him problems. Now that he’s president, he doesn’t need and can’t afford such people.
This shouldn’t be too much to ask. Finding such a person will require looking beyond the usual names. The president must approach this with the same level of seriousness that he has used when selecting Supreme Court nominations. The decision is that important.
And while he’s at it, the president should task his new Chief with replacing anyone in his administration who doesn’t meet the same basic standard with someone who does. Until he does this, he will not be able to fulfill the promises he made to the people who elected him and he won’t be able to use his time in office to make America great again.