US president Donald Trump is none the closer to deciding on who will succeed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, after confidently announcing his departure by the end of the year, last Saturday.
Trump, in a recent interview with Reuters, claimed that he is in no hurry nor is facing any trouble to find a replacement for the outgoing top aide, even though several top contenders for the most demanding and in-demand government job in the country, have pulled out of the race.
Although The Hill reports a shortlist of 10-12 candidates, overseas publications have claimed that no one really wants to apply for the “worst job in the Trump administration.” Amidst the staffing scramble and the internal resistance within the White House, this could culminate in another humiliating and chaotic episode in Trump’s presidency.
The tentative candidates
After his top choice, VP Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff, Nick Ayers, turned down the role, the president was left hanging without a Plan B, as the hunt to fill the once-coveted position continues. Not specifying whom he has in mind, Trump recently name-dropped Rep. Mark Meadows (North Carolina), calling him a “great guy” in a related question, and former campaign advisor David Bossie referring to him as a “friend of mine”.
The shortlist of last-minute possibilities also includes family-vetted officials like Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, but only Meadows has voiced interest. Among other less likely candidates are Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and even Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and head of the Trump transition team.
Although Trump has confidently claimed that many of his friends are interested in the job, it seems as if the only criteria required to fill Kelly’s shoes is having Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s approval. Kelly’s forced resignation is also suspected to be a joint campaign by the couple, but Ayers’ refusal has waylaid their plans. Both advisors to the president play a crucial role in the selection process, and for hardcore conservative activists among the hopefuls, that may be bad news because Jared and Ivanka are known to favour cosmopolitan political moderates.
According to West Wing officials, Lighthizer has a good relationship with Kushner. But, he has little experience in the type of administrative duties that the job demands. Meanwhile, Meadows told reporters on Monday evening that he was not “campaigning” for the job but would be “interested” if an offer is made. A person familiar with Mnuchin, however, claimed that the Treasury secretary was more interested in keeping the job he currently holds.
History of hiring
Notoriously famous for the “You’re fired” catchphrase and avoiding confrontations, Trump has been distrustful of Kelly’s personnel judgment, and wanted to fire him for a long time. As is typical of Trump, instead of allowing him to leave with dignity, he sprung the news from the South Lawn last week, saying he would be replacing him in a day or two. Staff turnover for senior aides, according to the Brookings Institution, sits at 62 percent, compared to 24 percent in the Obama administration.
The ouster has reportedly angered Kelly although he returned to the White House on Monday and executed his duties. Trump will reportedly not be consulting Kelly on his successor.
The gatekeeping job no one wants
Under normal circumstances, the job of president’s chief of staff is regarded as the second most powerful position as one who controls and has direct access to the Oval Office. But under Trump, the gatekeeping job has become onerous and commands far less prestige, especially with the president’s constant and unbridled tweeting habits.
Former chief of staff in the Bill Clinton government concurs saying, “You cannot operate with a president who is tweeting his own messages without any kind of policy analysis, without any discussion, without any kind of organised policymaking process that supports whatever message he wants to give.”
Chris Whipple, who wrote a book on White House chiefs of staff called The Gatekeepers, wrote, “If you’re coming into that job, you’ve got to lawyer up.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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