As the Michael Flynn fiasco demonstrates, the infant administration of President Trump is foundering in disorganization, arrogance and confusion. This is not unusual for first term Presidents, though of course the news media would have us believe so, and most President learn quickly enough, along with their staffs and advisors, to steer into calmer seas before it is too late. However President Trump faces special challenges, both from his unusual non-political background and the non-stop hostility he faces from the opposition party and the news media. Every other President has received a so-called honeymoon, because everyone knows that the job is enormous and it is ludicrous to expect a President to master it quickly. Then there is the problem of the President’s own, shall we say, limitations.
Nobody who becomes President of the United States wants to fail. In this President’s case, it is clear (or should be) that not failing will require him to do a hard personal audit of what he does well, what he knows, what he doesn’t know, and where he is desperately over his head. Good, effective leaders have the courage to perform such audits, and failed ones do not. I am certain they taught Trump this in business school. Now comes the hard part. He has to recognize that his operations as constructed do not work, and will drag everything down, and quickly, if he does not act quickly to address the problem. Thus he has an ethical obligation to do what is always difficult for any leader, and especially pathological narcissists like Trump. He needs to admit that he needs help, and that his current personnel can’t provide what he needs. The President promised to hire the best people, and he doesn’t have them, at least not where he needs them most.
President Trump lacks a top Chief of Staff who has a proven record running successful government operations on the state or national level. When Ronald Reagan’s second term nearly ran aground, former Republican Senator Howard Baker took over the job of Chief of Staff. Currently, Trump doesn’t have an experienced Washington, D,C. operator who can command respect and keep him out of trouble. Steve Bannon is an ideologue, and uselesss for that role. Reince Priebus is, as most already knew, a weak political hack and a light-weight. He has to be replaced. Steve Miller is another governing neophyte ideologue, and Kelleyanne Conway is , like Priebus, a hack—she’s a pollster, essentially—way, way over her head. This is a low-level, inexperienced, pathetic crew, and President Trump better realize it. I suspect he does.
Today he had a meeting with Chris Christie, which made me (and not only me) wonder if Trump has seen the writing on the wall and realized that he needs an experienced leader and manager of substance and talent to save him from what are dangerously weak advisors, and a bumbling staff.
Fortunately, the GOP has a long, deep bench for this purpose. At this point, the only thing stopping the President from doing the competent, responsible thing and hiring one of them is his own ego. In rough order, here are ten individuals (there are more) who have the ability to maximize the chances of President Trump avoiding a crippling pattern of gaffes, misadventures and scandals:
1. Mitt Romney. Romney, like Trump, is non-ideological, and likes to get things done. It would be profoundly ethical—patriotic, humble, selfless, brave and noble—for Mitt to agree to such a role. I doubt that he would, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask,
2. Chris Christie. I know, I know. But he’s smart, and theoretically gets along with Trump. With all his flaws, he’s infinitely better than anyone else currently on staff.
3. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee was a pretty effective goverrnor, He could do the job.
4. Jeb Bush. Absolutely impossible, of course, but Jeb was also a mostly effective governor, and if either he or Trump could swallow their bile for the good of the country, he would be effective.
5. Mitch Daniels. Widely admired, Daniels was a governor and once a hot presidential prospect.
6. Jim Webb. I think he’d take the job. He’s tough, he’s principled, and he’s been on both sides of the party divide, because Webb is essentially non-partisan.
7. Colin Powell. A dream choice.
8. Jan Brewer, former Arizona governor.
9. Tommy Thompson, former HHS Secretary and Wisconsin governor. Thompson is a bit old now (75) but he’s experienced and competent.
10. Rudy Giuliani.
Trump should just go down the list until someone says yes, which would be the ethical thing for any of them to do.
This is an existential test for his Presidency, and essentially one of character. We shall see if, in the end, he can rise above his limitations to the needs of the nation and the job. But then that has been the question from the beginning, hasn’t it?