In Trump's Dream Administration, There Would Be No Gatekeepers

President Donald Trump walks along to colonnade to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, as he returns from Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

I brought you the report of Trump’s restructuring program on Thursday. Early in the piece, I wrote this:

Among other ideas that are reportedly being floated, the president is considering creating an alternate “West Wing” that will be without a chief of staff, and surrounding himself with a gaggle of brownnosers, willing to let him be every inch the reprobate embarrassment that John Kelly has desperately sought to disguise from the world.

There will be four “co-equal principals,” reporting to nobody but Trump.

No, he’s not about to fire John Kelly, for now, but he’s apparently signaling that John Kelly’s position will be for appearances, only.


John Kelly has done quite a bit to pound out some sort of order within the Trump White House, since replacing Reince Priebus as chief of staff.

Curiously enough, after that piece, a report on a Steve Bannon appearance at a Financial Times event quoted Bannon as saying that if Kelly left, he didn’t believe Trump would bring in a new chief of staff.

Maybe Bannon knows a little something about the way Trump thinks?

NBC News agrees.

In conversations with allies outside the White House, the president envisioned a scenario in which a handful of top aides would report directly to him — bypassing the traditional gatekeeper position. The president hasn’t publicly discussed his deliberations.

Trump, who is said to always be reimagining his staff positions, appears to have tabled the suggestion for now. His second chief of staff, John Kelly, remains in his role after intense speculation about his job security. But the president was intrigued by, and seriously considered, the idea of not replacing him had he left.

Let’s be clear: Trump had that with Reince Priebus.

Priebus was such an ineffective, wishy-washy chief of staff that leaks, petty power struggles, and daily blow-ups were the norm for the early months of the Trump White House.


For Priebus, it wasn’t about order and professionalism within the White House. It was about his taking the front of the receiving line for those toadies lined up to lick Trump’s boots. For that reason, he made a lousy chief of staff. Kelly being the exact opposite is why he is a better chief of staff.

Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeeper” about White House chiefs of staff, said the idea is ill-advised.

“History is littered with the wreckage of presidencies that have tried to do this, and Jimmy Carter is the perfect example of why it’s a nonstarter,” said Whipple, who explained that some presidents tried to institute “spokes-of-the-wheel” models of leadership inside the West Wing, with the commander in chief at the center.

It rarely worked, he said.

Trump’s circle is currently undergoing reconstruction. In just the last couple of weeks, he has replaced his secretary of state (Rex Tillerson out, Mike Pompeo in), his national security adviser (swapping out H.R. McMaster for John Bolton, yesterday), lost his economic adviser, Gary Cohn, over his ill-advised tariffs (replaced with Larry Kudlow), and the lead attorney on his legal team in the Russia probe, John Dowd, resigned after Trump brought on a conspiracy theory attorney, Joe diGenova, after seeing him say dumb things on Fox News.


Have I forgot anybody?

For now, Team Trump is saying John Kelly’s job is safe.

Which means he should start packing.



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