There are several simple tasks that every White House needs to do. Most of them are tedious but critical grist for the government mill: preparing presidential nominees for the Senate confirmation process; drafting talking points for surrogates on television; clearly explaining a program or policy and rolling it out cleanly; and making sure lawmakers on the other end of town know what’s actually happening within the White House walls.
If one needed any more evidence that the Trump administration can’t even perform these most basic duties, the scandalous saga of Ronny Jackson, Trump’s nominee for Veterans Affairs Secretary, puts any lingering doubts to rest. The Jackson affair exposed every systemic weakness of the Trump White House in real time – an overworked but ineffective vetting process, the lack of Tier A talent vying for important cabinet posts, and a complete disconnection between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill. The stream of allegations about Jackson’s drunken behaviour and terrible management flooded the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, prompted the chairman to cancel the confirmation hearing to sort it all out, and led finally to the doctor withdrawing as nominee this morning.
But it should never have gotten to this point. Trump’s team should have taken care of all this before Jackson’s nomination was sent up. If they really cared about a man Trump calls one of the best he has ever met, his staffers would have uncovered all of the skeletons early and saved Jackson from the embarrassment of being thrown into the dog fight and torn to shreds. Instead, the administration has spent two days running around with their hair on fire, trying to figure out if their nominee – who served as Trump’s personal physician – really did drink on the job and over-prescribe Ambien to White House staffers.
Whether it was the frenetic roll out of the Muslim travel ban last year, Trump’s constant undercutting of the party line, or the vindictive infighting within the administration itself, the Ronny Jackson story is not simply about Ronny Jackson. It’s also about a presidency that can’t seem to do anything but make problems for itself. And as long as chaos and turbulence reign, Americans should prepare themselves for watching the same movie over and over again in the future.
In a strange way, the good doctor deserves an apology. He is a victim of a bureaucracy that is woefully incompetent but resistant to change. Ronny Jackson is responsible for his personal foibles and inappropriate conduct (assuming there is something to these allegations). What he is not responsible for, however, is a White House that thinks of a thorough vetting process as a silly waste of time.