Trump Makes Classic Management Mistake
Assumes He’s Hired Someone For Top Job, So Announces The Current Person In That Job Is Leaving, And Then The New Guy Doesn’t Take The Job…
Update: Not to toot our own horn, but in the section of that piece where we originally handicapped who might be Trump’s next Chief of Staff, after his first (and really only choice) Nick Ayers bowed out, of all the names being bandied about by Washington pundits, #1 on our list was Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. And that’s who Trump named. We were also kind of right in our assessment that Trump viewed him as a kind of “utility player” since he’s only getting the title of “Acting” Chief of Staff for now (not clear whether that was at his request, or Trump wanted to try him out).
Nick Ayers — VP Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff — is not becoming White House Chief of Staff. So maybe Trump should’ve waited before he announced late last week that John Kelly is out by the end of the month. Because this way kinda makes it look like Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, and maybe everyone isn’t dying to work for him.
In fact, Trump and Kelly had apparently agreed that Kelly himself would announce his resignation today, but Trump couldn’t hold his tongue over the weekend, hence another awkward situation he finds himself in. Of course, back when Trump announced Kelly was becoming Chief of Staff, he did it before Kelly had formally agreed to it too.
As with most mistakes the President makes, unless there’s an easy scapegoat, he denies it even happened:
Which is belied by the fact that Ayers himself, just hours before, Tweeted he wasn’t sticking around at the White House:
Remember, the White House Chief of Staff does not need to be approved by the Senate because it’s an appointed staff position. And so Trump’s eventual pick could end up being a total wild card, since there are a lot of people out there Trump likes who might not be approved by the Senate for a position in his Cabinet (including acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker).
Professional snark Jonathan Bernstein quipped on Twitter:
“Willingness to accept the job at this point proves a disqualifying lack of political judgment”.
But we’re not so sure that’s true. It’s possible to choose to work for a vile boss if you view things in a broader context in which everybody is eventually replaced, and in which you still can do some good. Is that realistic with Trump at the helm? Maybe. Is it more likely Trump will seek an enabler vs. a visionary? Yes.
Several somewhat conventional choices are the names are being bandied about at the moment. While we usually ignore this kind of speculation until someone is actually named, we feel like doing a little handicapping today:
- Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. He’s served as a utility player for Trump before, jumping in as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when his un-fireable predecessor Richard Cordray (that was done so a President like Trump couldn’t take away the agency’s powers to protect consumers), stupidly decided to quit and run for Governor of Ohio. (He lost). Since then, Mulvaney’s done a great job of making that agency toothless, while at the same time continuing his work as budget director. Impressive. (Just a couple of days ago, a Mulvaney protege was confirmed by the Senate to take over his CFPB job.) But someone who Trump tosses into any middling open vacancy leads one to believe the President views him as something of a lightweight. Plus Mulvaney is a small guy. And you know that’s often a strike against potential Trump appointees.
- Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows. The Freedom Caucus is what’s become of the Tea Party, and Meadows is known as extremely Right wing and even more extremely inflexible. (For which he’s despised, even by some Republicans, because he’s quashed multiple attempts at bipartisanship). On the other hand, Meadows’ party won’t be running the House anymore come January, and lines of communication between Trump and Republicans in Congress have never been quite right. Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short did a pretty good job of it, but it’s a hard job to do when you don’t know whether the President’s going to stick with what he said yesterday. And in fact what Trump said just a short time ago is he’d like to see some bipartisan stuff come out of the next Congress. With Meadows at the helm, you can forget that. Everyone would just dig in more.
- US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer. As we’ve told you before, Lighthizer is extremely smart, competent, and when Trump says he’s hired “the best people”, he really has in this one case. Which also probably means he’s not crazy enough to take the job. In addition, he’s in the middle of negotiating with China. Does Trump really want to pull him from that? Trade negotiations are one of the only areas Trump has had any measurable, positive success, as long as he’s kept his mouth shut and let Lighthizer do the talking at the negotiating table. (NAFTA, South Korea, etc.) Plus doing all these trade deals keeps Lighthizer away from the White House for extended periods of time. Why would he want to give that up?
- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. What? This is the only one we can say for sure ain’t gonna happen, even with zero direct knowledge of what’s going on. Why? Because Trump’s getting exhausted blaming Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell for the recent stock market plunge, and he’s shown signs that he’s about to scapegoat Mnuchin for it. Furthermore, he’s just taken Mnuchin off the task of trade negotiations with China, giving it to US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer. (See above).
In other words, despite his protestations to the contrary, Trump didn’t have a backup candidate.