A show of hands please for anyone who wants to be Donald Trump’s next chief of staff. Nobody? Seriously? It is the second most powerful job in Washington! To be fair, it comes with a roughly six-month expiry label and a feeling of rolling humiliation.
Just ask Reince Priebus, who lasted until July 2017, or John Kelly, whose tenure is rapidly expiring. Both men bent over backwards to reconcile normal managerial practices with Trump’s way of operating. Neither succeeded.
Priebus left the job a far diminished figure, which is often the case with those who have worked for Trump. Just ask Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn and, before long, retired general Kelly. Just a few weeks before Priebus was ejected, he publicly exulted in the honour of working for Trump. The moment would have made Stalin blush. But it made no difference. With Trump, loyalty is a one-way street.
Kelly is about to find that out. On the plus side, he has streamlined the Oval Office routine. Visitors must now go through the chief of staff. People can no longer wander in and out at will. Trump’s reading material has also been curtailed. Madcap conspiracy sites, such as Infowars and Breitbart News, are no longer easily available. Even Ivanka Trump must apparently make an appointment before she sees her father.
On the minus side, Trump has simply put more “executive time” on his calendar, which is code for staying upstairs and tweeting while watching Fox News. Kelly has also lost a lot of admirers in the world outside. Even before the latest controversy over the firing of Rob Porter, who is alleged to have physically abused both of his former wives, Kelly had discredited himself with many former friends among the Marine corps and elsewhere. He did not need to speak highly of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. Nor did he need to speak so disparagingly about Dreamers being “too lazy” to register.
But that is the effect Trump has on his acolytes. They are invariably diminished by proximity to the big cheese. Those who are thought to be on Trump’s short-list to replace Kelly include Gary Cohn, his chief economic adviser, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House. They should think long and hard before going any further.
The key to the success of a White House chief of staff — or any senior manager — is to ensure that everyone is playing on the same team. The key to Trump’s managerial style is to set subordinates against each other. That is his acknowledged philosophy. Anyone who does not believe that should read his own words in one of his many ghostwritten books — starting with The Art of the Deal. Having done so they should make two caveats: a) the job is rigged to fail and b) they will come out of it with their reputation in tatters. Apart from that, it’s a slam dunk.
My column this week is about America’s deteriorating public finances: Where is the Tea Party when you need it?
My recommendations start with The Washington Post’s searing report on Kelly’s managerial record. Forget Trump: When senior members of your staff are calling you a “big fat liar” it’s probably time to move on.
My colleague, Courtney Weaver, has a lovely take on Melania Trump’s enigmatic role. “In a White House cabinet room where praise of President Trump can appear plucked from a Politburo playbook, the first lady’s small acts of autonomy have a strong whiff of defiance.”
Finally, for those wondering about the growing popularity of Universal Basic Income, here is a powerful antidote. According to Ian Goldin, an Oxford professor writing in the FT, it is more like an expensive red herring. It certainly gave me pause for thought.
Rana Foroohar responds
I hear from CEOs everywhere that talent is tough to find, and as Ed points out, that's nowhere more true than in the White House. Millennials in particular want authenticity and brand consistency in their employers; this Republican administration has lost what little it had by endorsing trillion dollar deficits. Of course, cutting taxes and then running up government spending is nothing new for conservatives. Reagan did it, which is why the deficit rose sharply in his second term. But as Ed points out, monetary policy is now out of juice and that will make all the difference in terms of how these cynical moves play out in the economy and markets this time round.
Meanwhile, I want to add that I agree with Ian Goldin's take on UBI. To me, the most problematic issue is that giving people a check does nothing to address the meaning and self-value that people take from their work. At last year's Aspen Ideas Festival, one venture capitalist from California told me that UBI would be great for the Rust Belt because it would allow laid off factory workers and teamsters to "become surfers — or writers". And folks in the Valley wonder why the pitchforks are out.
Finally, I'd like to remind folks of what I think was the single best piece ever written on the psychology of the Trumps, and Melania in particular, by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You can't make this stuff up . . . except she did!
Trump's fight against China hits a snag The FT has discovered the Trump administration’s largest anticipated trade move against China has become bogged down in an internal debate focused in large part on legal concerns, even as Beijing is stepping up a frantic lobbying campaign to avert confrontation. ( FT)
Elizabeth Warren's latest speech aims at Trump The liberal Massachusetts senator made a surprise appearance before the National Congress of American Indians and leaned into the racist nickname Donald Trump has given her — Pocahontas — as she positions herself for what many see as a 2020 campaign. (Boston Globe)
Part-time deficit hawks Paul Waldman argues that the deficit-exploding budget proves that the apocalyptic debt concerns Republicans trot out during Democratic administrations are purely partisan. (WaPo)
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