What does Nick Ayers, the vice president’s aggressive, ambitious chief of staff know? The 36-year-old turned down the president’s offer to replace General John Kelly over the weekend, taking the extraordinary step to rule himself out on Twitter ahead the administration and its allies.
Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. 🇺🇸 #Georgia
— Nick Ayers (@nick_ayers) December 9, 2018
Ayers was thought to be the eager, hands-down next chief of staff to the president – a key consideration in the sacking of Kelly. Amid the legal typhoon the White House appears destined for, does he think it’s a sinking ship? Ever loyal to Pence, potentially the next president, Ayers is on his way out of the administration entirely, for now; he announced his year-end departure following his rejection of the Trump offer.
So, who wants this job? How can the president save face? There are some options, in descending order of likelihood:
13. Steve Bannon
The old gang back together. Trump’s been this flat on his back before – in August of 2016 – when he hired Bannon. Would he even consider this? Would Bannon?
12. Matthew Whitaker
The Trumpist hatchet man and acting AG could save himself from irrelevance – migrating from Justice to the White House. Plusses: he’s willing, he’s loyal. Negatives: he’s a controversial hardliner with little relevant experience.
11. Corey Lewandowski
He’d also take the job. This would also be getting the MAGA crew back together. As Freddy Gray wrote on Saturday, he seemed clairvoyant about Kelly’s impending exit. Some have been laying out the case why this makes sense for months.
10. Anthony Scaramucci
Ditto. At his nadir, Bill Clinton had Dick Morris. He could do worse than a redux of The Mooch.
9 and 8. Ivanka Trump or Jared Kushner
Do not rule it out. Such a move would be pure Trump, but would roil many in his base, where the pair have grown deeply unpopular. ‘Nobody is apparently telling you this,’ Ann Coulter, the hardline polemicist, reportedly told Trump during the 2016-2017 transition ‘But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children.’ Does the president, relatively ideologically unmoored, feel worse for this advice?
7. Robert Lighthizer
Trump would be picking someone here, ideologically at least, more Trumpist than Trump. The move would convulse politics in Washington. The question is, though, does Trump want to move his pointman on China out of strictly that arena? He’s passed on such maneuvers before, most recently preferring to keep Ambassador Richard ‘Ric’ Grenell in Europe, for instance, rather than shipping him up to the UN, an ostensible promotion.
6. Chris Christie
Or the president could go the other way: tap the man who put Kushner’s father and Trump’s father-in-law in jail. But consider: Christie has run a major state, tangled in the legal jungles in both his prosecutorial and gubernatorial career, and was one of the first major establishment players to endorse Trump. He could do a lot worse than the man he nearly named his running mate.
5. Hope Hicks
Trump loyalists like ex-aide Sam Nunberg and the writer Ryan Girdusky have been pushing Hicks’s candidacy in the media for some time. But would ‘Hopey’ leave her plum new job at Fox to return to the roiling seas surrounding 1600 Penn?
4. David N. Bossie
Bossie would provide the benefits of Lewandowski – a old loyalist (deputy campaign manager) with a lower profile that would afford less of the drawbacks. He’s even recently co-authored a book with Lewandowski.
3. Mark Meadows
Meadows, the Freedom Caucus frontman, seems to have replaced Kevin McCarthy in Trump’s mind lately. McCarthy, who Trump has considered for chief before, will want to stick to his new job as Minority Leader, a position which could ride well past the era of the White House, and one day translate into the speakership, or further. Given the track record of Trump appointees, why make a lateral move to a spot you’ll likely be extinguished in, in due time? Meadows’s considerations are different. He and his cohort of hardliners failed to take the leadership. Accepting the White House chief of staff job would push their concerns – a right-wing approach to government, spending and foreign policy – squarely into center stage. Plus, he has outwardly expressed an interest in the role.
1 (tie). Mick Mulvaney or no one
Mulvaney, the current budget pointman, brings similar qualities to Meadows, but with greater policy depth and less controversy. Mulvaney has been a whispered candidate for this job for over a year. After the collapse of the Ayers candidacy, he’s the most ready person in the administration to get going on day one.
Or the president could select…no one. Don’t rule this out. Trump has always shrunk from having a chief of staff with traditional chief of staff clout (see: Priebus, Reince). Bannon himself has been floating this scenario since earlier this year. What better way to let Trump be Trump?