Why Mulvaney can't save Trump's chaos presidency

President Donald Trump has announced his final choice in the chief of staff sweepstakes: Budget Director Mic...

Posted: Dec 16, 2018 2:18 PM
Updated: Dec 16, 2018 2:18 PM

President Donald Trump has announced his final choice in the chief of staff sweepstakes: Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. The announcement, made predictably via Twitter on Friday, ends more than a week of "Apprentice"-like scrambling to figure out who would replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly. Nick Ayers (Vice President Mike Pence's former chief of staff), Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie and David Bossie were all in the mix.

Mulvaney, who will serve as "acting" chief of staff, brings skills to the table that might be helpful in this job under normal circumstances. He was elected as a congressman for the 5th District of South Carolina in 2010 and became part of the Tea Party Revolution on Capitol Hill. Mulvaney has fostered strong relationships with Republicans in Congress (although House Democrats don't like him). He also has experience managing things: He is director of the Office of Management and Budget and recently stepped down as the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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But skill sets don't matter in what might be the most thankless job in Washington. The Trump White House is in turmoil and under investigation. It is run by a President who refuses to listen to any adviser and eventually turns on almost everyone around him, and is in conversation with a political party desperately trying to figure out why it should stay loyal to its leader.

None of these conditions makes the chief of staff position appealing. Mulvaney, who will be Trump's third chief of staff, is stepping into a political hurricane, not unlike when Al Haig became President Richard Nixon's chief of staff in May 1973.

But while there will be speculation about whether Mulvaney can turn things around, there is no hope. What we see is what we will continue to get. The structural problems facing any chief of staff working for this President are immense and won't go away.

Trump runs a freewheeling administration where he is the one in charge. While it is possible that a skillful COS might bring order to the Oval Office -- as Kelly appeared to do early in his 16-month tenure -- he will always be subservient to a President who sows chaos.

Mulvaney also steps in when this presidency is in a full-blown crisis. The combination of a newly elected House Democratic majority and the rapid intensification of investigations into wrongdoing and corruption means that Mulvaney will spend much of his time trying to keep this ship from sinking -- and himself out of trouble. There will be few opportunities for pushing legislative breakthroughs, and there is always the chance he will get swept up in the inquiry.

The best that Trump's supporters can hope for is that Mulvaney establishes some kind of managerial order and gets in Trump's ear when the President exhibits his worst tendencies. But don't bet on it.

The problem facing Mulvaney is the problem facing anyone in this broken White House. This at-risk President has insulated himself from advice and counsel essential to saving himself.

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