Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Organizing the White House: Trump Getting it Right

 

In all the stories about Republicans and conservatives lauding President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks – even as Democrats go scalp hunting – one surprising fact has escaped partisan and media attention: This may be the most shrewdly organized entering White House since Ronald Reagan’s. To see why, look at the history of the top inside position, chief of staff.

Starting with Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, there developed separate Democratic and Republican ways of organizing the White House. Democrats preferred the FDR model in which cabinet members and senior staff enjoyed more or less direct access to the president. Republicans followed Ike’s example and had a strong chief of staff who controlled the all flow of people and information in and out the Oval Office.

As a result, Democratic administrations gained reputations as unruly free-for-alls, Republican ones as disciplined and efficient. But from Eisenhower’s Sherman Adams to George H.W. Bush’s John Sununu and even George W. Bush’s Andrew Card, most GOP chiefs of staff left their posts to one degree or another under a cloud, invited to leave if not publicly forced out.

The reason was not that they were bad at their jobs but, generally, that they were too good. For an essential part of the chief of staff role was to say no, which meant to make many of the nation’s most powerful figures angry with them rather than with their boss. Let’s put it this way: Having every person of substance in official Washington believing that you personally nixed presidential support for his or her most cherished policy chew toy cannot be a prescription for job security.

One of the few exceptions to this GOP-chiefs-of-staff-as-political-cannon-fodder rule was Ronald Reagan’s James Baker. But in addition to possessing extraordinary political skills, Baker was never in a position to block determined players from getting to the president. In the first Reagan term, each member of the “troika” of Baker, counselor to the president Edwin Meese, and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver could open the Oval Office’s doors — as, in a pinch, could national-security adviser (and subsequent interior secretary) William Clark and CIA director William Casey. In effect Reagan melded the Roosevelt and Eisenhower White House models creating multiple but not unwieldy avenues of access. One of the major mistakes of his presidency was returning to the Ike model at the start of his second term.

As he prepares for his inauguration, Mr. Trump has establishing his own troika with Reince Priebus in the Baker role and Steve Bannon and genius-pollster Kellyanne Conway as mixes of Meese and Deaver, not in their exact portfolios but in the combined breadth of their responsibilities and the completeness of their Oval Office access.

Trump is off to an outstanding start.

There are 6 comments.

  1. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    An interesting take that I hadn’t heard before. This may be based on his experience as a CEO, where giving people too much control in gatekeeping roles is a serious problem.

    I’d also say that the three of them having complementary skillsets (organization, media, polling/analytics) doesn’t hurt either.

    • #1
    • January 2, 2017, at 11:06 AM PST
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  2. Front Seat Cat Member

    Communication with the people and a foot based in reality is more than a head start over the last administration – I’m counting the days and hours…

    • #2
    • January 2, 2017, at 12:02 PM PST
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  3. Steve C. Member

    Republican Chiefs of staff are best served by taking the advice of Harry Truman.

    “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

    • #3
    • January 2, 2017, at 3:24 PM PST
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  4. TKC1101 Inactive

    Any successful executive understands when you are under pressure, you play to your staff’s strengths. This is not a time to develop skills.

    He has Priebus, who is accomplished at organizing people and getting them moving purposefully .

    He has Pence, who is a solid congressional operator and has proven loyalty. Pence will work McConnell, Ryan, loose cannons like McCain, Grahm and Collins, and build the allies on the hill.

    I expect Bannon is the measurement guy and the one who is plotting navigation six months to a year out. Also see if Bannon is ‘loaned out” to Ben Carson, or to EPA or to firefight with the Cabinet Secretary in different areas.

    KellyAnne is the early warning system that he is losing his voters or gaining new ones. Her counsel will be critical. Trump listens and respects her feel for the voters. She will be the biggest media ‘get’ in DC.

    I expect Trump will deal with Schumer directly. It will empower Schumer, but also make him in debt for it. Trump knows if he and Schumer appear together on camera weekly, it will be hard for Schumer to demonize him. Think Tip O’Neil and Reagan. Instead of two Irish guys, you have two New Yorkers who can tell jokes after cutting each other up.

    Mattis and Kelly and Flynn better work together well. If they can, it will be powerful.

    • #4
    • January 2, 2017, at 5:01 PM PST
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  5. Larry Koler Inactive

    Great points, Mr. Judge.

    The blended one with emphasis on just a few actual gate-keepers seems to be the sweet spot.

    One more thing is this: isn’t it likely that a chief of staff with real power is targeted more by the media than a weak chief. Media bullies want to have a scalp and the chief of staff is close to the president, usually liked by the president and therefore bagging him (like they did Scooter Libby) is a big get for the left.

    Every story like this should have an analysis of the way things play in the bias of the media. I think that any differences with regard to parties should always be run through that filter.

    • #5
    • January 2, 2017, at 5:02 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Larry Koler Inactive

    TKC1101 (View Comment):
    Any successful executive understands when you are under pressure, you play to your staff’s strengths. This is not a time to develop skills.

    He has Priebus, who is accomplished at organizing people and getting them moving purposefully .

    He has Pence, who is a solid congressional operator and has proven loyalty. Pence will work McConnell, Ryan, loose cannons like McCain, Grahm and Collins, and build the allies on the hill.

    I expect Bannon is the measurement guy and the one who is plotting navigation six months to a year out. Also see if Bannon is ‘loaned out” to Ben Carson, or to EPA or to firefight with the Cabinet Secretary in different areas.

    KellyAnne is the early warning system that he is losing his voters or gaining new ones. Her counsel will be critical. Trump listens and respects her feel for the voters. She will be the biggest media ‘get’ in DC.

    I expect Trump will deal with Schumer directly. It will empower Schumer, but also make him in debt for it. Trump knows if he and Schumer appear together on camera weekly, it will be hard for Schumer to demonize him. Think Tip O’Neil and Reagan. Instead of two Irish guys, you have two New Yorkers who can tell jokes after cutting each other up.

    Mattis and Kelly and Flynn better work together well. If they can, it will be powerful.

    You are a genius. That’s a great window into things. I especially like the notion that successful handling of crises is often due to a machine that is in place, mature and well oiled before the crisis erupts.

    • #6
    • January 2, 2017, at 5:06 PM PST
    • Like