Does Trump even need a chief of staff?
After months of speculation — yawn — it has finally been confirmed that John Kelly is stepping down as President Trump's chief of staff at the end of the year.
We could spend from now until the Rose Bowl speculating about who is going to replace him. Nick Ayers, who serves in the same capacity for Mike Pence, was Trump's first choice. Ayers has refused. So has Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has also indicated that he has no interest in leaving his present position. There has been some talk about the possibility of bringing in Chris Christie onboard — or maybe the rando former CNN commentator and Trump toady who is currently the acting attorney general. We get to the D list pretty quickly here.
But who else is there? Nobody qualified for the job wants it. There are any number of reasons for this. One is simply that it in any administration White House chief of staff is a demanding and, as far as the public is concerned, largely thankless position. This is especially true in Trump's case, where the best possible outcome is that in exchange for taking a great deal of abuse the next person with the job will be able to say — what exactly? The ongoing special counsel investigation makes things even more difficult. Trump's next chief of staff could very well end up one erroneous answer to a calendar-related gotcha question from being accused of perjury or obstruction of justice.
At this point I think it's worth asking whether Trump actually needs a chief of staff. More to the point: Does he even want one? What would the best candidate in the world provide him with? Sound advice on personnel? A better approach to time management? Does anyone think that he is one smart hire away from talking and acting like a normal president?
There is no chief of staff who is going to convince Trump to stop tweeting. There is no chief of staff capable of making him care about tiny details or convincing him that building some kind of working relationship with Democratic leadership in the House requires more than making vague noise about "bipartisanship." This man is 72 years old. He is who he is.
The days when Trump could expect some gray-haired captain of industry like Rex Tillerson or a respected military man like H.R. McMaster or, uhh, John Kelly to answer the call out of an abstract sense of duty are over. Now he has to rely upon his friends to fill positions. Some have suggested that Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees, is the next man line. Is Bob Knight busy? What about Mike Leach?
The Trump administration, like the Trump Organization, is essentially a family business. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are by all accounts the only people who have special unfiltered access to the presidential brain. They can shore up the reputation of a newcomer to the White House staff or destroy it. They can allow the president to appear in a last-minute special Fox News interview or tell him to stay home. They can force him to concentrate — for five minutes or so, anyway — on tomorrow's European leadership summit or the latest quick-fix budget deal. They are, practically, speaking his co-chiefs of staff already. Trump himself does not seem dissatisfied with this arrangement, which exists because he has encouraged it. A successful replacement for Kelly would not attempt to alter this consensus or work outside of it but simply accept a state of affairs where his authority is circumscribed by members of the president's family.
There is every reason to think that Trump's next two years will not be especially significant. Passing major legislation is possible only with the cooperation of Democrats, who have their own reasons to avoid working with him. If the opposition party decides to pursue impeachment in the House, the Republican-controlled Senate will almost certainly clear him. All of which is to say that if there are any smart disciplined people whose names we have never heard waiting in the wings, Trump is better off having them work on his 2020 campaign than wasting their time asking them to perform an impossible task in the White House.