I talked to former White House Chiefs of Staff William Daley and Sam Skinner about challenges facing new Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly — who was sworn-in on Monday — and if the Chicagoans had advice for the newest member of their exclusive fraternity.
Speaking about personnel, Daley said, “If you got to make changes, make ’em and make ’em quick.”
Kelly sure did.
Shortly after I chatted with Daley and Skinner, the potty mouth White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was ejected after being on the job only 11 days, the first example of Kelly’s newfound influence in the Trump administration.
Kelly steps in with the reality that there are competing power centers in the White House. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are two of Trump’s top advisers whose family relationship gives them extraordinary access no matter what formal chain-of-command evolves.
Daley and Skinner agreed that installing some kind of process is key to producing policy results — that’s basic White House management — no matter the party in charge or the agenda of the president.
“It’s all dependent on the president,” Skinner said. “If the president gives [Kelly] the authority and the president respects the process he and Kelly have agreed to, then he will be successful. If the president departs from the process that’s set between the two of them, it will not work well.”
Even if that direct access of Ivanka, Jared and strategist Steve Bannon and others continues, “You can’t go in and come out without telling the chief of staff what is going on and why and what needs to be done,” Skinner said.
That Kelly prevailed in swiftly getting rid of Scaramucci — a showboat personality who flew too close to the sun — may just have been a price Trump had to pay to get the retired Marine Corps general to take the position. At first, Kelly was reluctant to leave his post as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
I think it is way too soon to know whether or if the arrival of Kelly means the Trump White House has the potential to move from turmoil to tranquil. After all, Trump declared in a Monday morning Twitter post that there was “no chaos” in the White House, even with more commotion just hours away.
Democrat Daley served under former President Barack Obama for 379 days, from Jan. 13, 2011, through Jan. 27, 2012. Mayor Rahm Emanuel was Obama’s first chief of staff. Republican Skinner helmed the White House under former President George H.W. Bush for 251 days, between Dec. 16, 1991, and Aug. 23, 1992.
Reince Priebus served for 189 days, and was fired on Friday, the day after Scaramucci tore into him as a “f—— paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” in an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza posted on Thursday.
Priebus “worked very hard in a very difficult” situation, Skinner said.
Scaramucci’s own fate in this soap opera was sealed with the New Yorker interview, demonstrating, if nothing else, the flamboyant New Yorker did not know how to manage messaging.
Kelly is stepping into a “tough dynamic,” Daley said. Trump is not likely to change and Kelly has no previous White House experience.
“This is not like a corporation or a military organization . . . all White Houses reflect the president and this president is very much a different out of the box manager,” he said. “He runs the show for good, bad or indifferent. The thought that somebody, anybody, is going to come in and change that is kind of silly.
“What you have to do is manage around that as best one can and that’s obviously been a challenge to Priebus,” Daley said. “. . . You have to figure out where you want your battles and what your strength is” and not get thrown off by worrying “who is closest to the boss.”
Limiting who talks to Trump will be “impossible,” said Daley. “Half of America has his cell number.”
As for advice, besides making personnel moves fast, Daley said, “Don’t spend too much time trying to be in the president’s face. It’s more important getting systems and process working with you and others on your senior team.”
Skinner said Kelly, with more than six months in the Trump administration at DHS, “knows all the players in the White House. He has a relationship with the president. I think he will do what he did in the military — execute with precision.”