President Donald Trump is in the market for a new chief of staff, but his management style, reluctance to change, and relationship with his past two top aides suggest it might not ultimately matter much whom he selects.
Unless Trump significantly changes how he views the role — a once-coveted job in Washington that now appears to have few takers — and actually empowers a chief of staff, those close to the administration admit that his choice won’t change much for the White House.
“I doubt it matters who he selects,” said a former White House official. “The results will always be the same. The only thing that might be different is the length of the honeymoon afforded to the new chief of staff.”
John Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff, is due to leave the White House in the coming weeks, the president announced this weekend. Trump had assumed for weeks that Vice President Mike Pence’s top aide, Nick Ayers, would accept the job.
Eventually, Ayers announced this weekend that he, like Kelly, would be leaving the administration at the end of the year. Trump is now starting from scratch to find a replacement, but several sources said continued power clashes in his administration would make it hard for the chief of staff to impose any real authority.
“A lot of this is not Trump,” the former official said. “There’ll always be people around him who seek to undermine the new chief of staff for their own personal gain. Kelly tried to put in a process whereby this would be limited, and it was still a total shitshow.”
Another former White House official also said that any expectation for significant changes in policy or management is unrealistic.
“Regardless, you’re going to see folks try and climb the ladder of chaos, but at the end of the day we’ve seen this happen a bunch,” the former official said. “And I’m sure people are exhausted by all the instability. The more things change, the more things stay the same, ya know?”
Trump is reportedly considering North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, and acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, among others, for the top role.
The new chief of staff will not only deal with the continued management clashes in the White House and certain periods of distrust from the mercurial president, but he or she will also face a Democrat-controlled House determined to investigate the administration on a host of issues. The job opening also comes as court filings and recent developments in the special counsel’s investigation indicate that Robert Mueller is moving closer to the president.
The person will also start the job as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, and Trump has to divide his time between campaigning and governing.
“It’s a watershed moment for the Trump presidency,” said Chris Whipple, the author of The Gatekeepers, a history of White House chiefs of staff.
Whipple said Trump’s chief of staff selection “matters more than ever right now,” but the problem is Trump is unlikely to “change his views on the kind of chief of staff he needs.”
“Most importantly, he needs somebody who can walk in the Oval Office and tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” Whipple said. “There’s no evidence that Trump wants that kind of person around.”
Some close to the president, however, still believe the selection “absolutely matters,” even if Trump is “the most unique president we have ever had” and ultimately acts on his own instincts.
“It has to be somebody who understands that the chief of staff is there to be effective, to help the president make decisions, and push his agenda,” said Matt Schlapp, a GOP strategist and Trump ally whose wife works in the White House. “The president needs to be comfortable with his team.”
Another source close to the administration said the selection only mattered as long as the person had “good political instincts” and could “navigate Washington well,” criteria that most of the names being floated are capable of meeting.
Others in Trump’s orbit also said anyone capable of actually shaking up the White House would never accept the job, given Trump’s temperament and the continued influence of his family, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have clashed with Trump’s previous chiefs of staff.
“How are you going to manage him when he doesn’t want to be managed?” one of those sources said. “What would you have to gain? It’s a complete waste.”