The terrible inevitability of a Chief of Staff Newt Gingrich
President Trump has a way of making the most far-fetched analysis and speculation about his administration seem plausible. So while I think my colleague Damon Linker was joking when he tweeted that Newt Gingrich should be Trump's new chief of staff, it's also the case that Gingrich visited the White House on Wednesday — and then was tight-lipped with reporters about who should replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly.
This thing just might happen.
Sure, it seems like a bad idea: Trump likes to be the biggest personality in any room — and Newt Gingrich is nothing if not a big personality. Both men hate to stand outside the spotlight. Could those two egos fit side-by-side into the Oval Office for an extended period of time? It's difficult to think so.
But you can also see why Gingrich and Trump might find it appealing to come to an arrangement. They are, politically, kindred spirits — Culture War Republicans who seem to take more joy in starting a fight than in solving a problem, who are better at harnessing the forces of disdain, anger, and blame than they are at inspiring and leading Americans to solutions. It can be argued that Newt's rise to the speakership in 1994 offered Trump a template for his own White House run.
Besides, Gingrich possesses the most important qualification of all: He's been a Trump loyalist since early in the 2016 campaign.
So why not?
The bad news is that Gingrich's presence in the West Wing would probably magnify every quality that already makes this administration seem like a circus: The backbiting, the made-for-television drama, the general insanity. The enduring picture of John Kelly's White House tenure was the former Marine sitting off to the periphery of the president, looking exasperated and even ashamed. Gingrich is more likely to be photographed handing the president a box of matches and can of gasoline at the scene of a house fire.
The good news, if you find this president distasteful, is this: Gingrich's last big political accomplishment came 25 years ago, when he helped Republicans take the majority in the House of Representatives. He has an instinct for politicking, but he's not all that great at governing — remember, his speakership ended in disgrace after the Clinton impeachment. If you want the Trump administration to be ineffective, Gingrich might well be your man.
Gingrich once shut down government because he thought President Clinton snubbed him. Can you imagine any act more Trumpist?
"Virtually everyone across ideological boundaries (would) say the man is uniquely indisciplined and impulsive," Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall said, and if that sounds like it could describe either Trump or Gingrich to you, well, that might be both the appeal — to a certain kind of nihilistic Republican, anyway — and the danger of their partnership. When the two see each other, it's like they're looking in a mirror.
Gingrich does have one quality in particular that makes him suited for this White House: He's a survivor. It's been 20 years since his speakership ended, and yet he's kept himself close to the action ever since, writing books, making TV appearances, and even running for president once. He's never been far from the spotlight, and if that seems unremarkable, ask yourself: When's the last time you thought about John Boehner? In a White House that features massive turnover, Gingrich's survival instincts might come in handy.
Trump would also benefit from hiring Gingrich. For one, he's been deeply humiliated by Nick Ayers —Vice President Mike Pence's former chief of staff — and his decision to pass on the opportunity to replace John Kelly and instead go home to Georgia. (Can you blame him?) Hiring Gingrich lets Trump make the case that big names still want to serve in his administration. And given Gingrich's own political predilections, there's little chance that, as chief of staff, he would try to "manage" the president or rein in his worst excesses. Newt's much more likely to let Trump be Trump, come what may.
It's probably always wisest, when talking about the Trump administration, to bet on the weirdest possible outcome. So, yes, it's easy to see this partnership ending in disaster. But the qualities that should make a Trump-Gingrich pairing terrifying to America are also the ones that make it seemingly, incredibly inevitable.