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Never Too Soon for a Functional White House

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Perhaps we're getting somewhere. From a Politico profile of an administration ending its third week:

The interviews paint a picture of a powder-keg of a workplace where job duties are unclear, morale among some is low, factionalism is rampant and exhaustion is running high. Two visitors to the White House last week said they were struck by how tired the staff looks.

In Washington circles, talk has turned to whether a staff shake-up is in the works.

One person close to Trump said: "I think he'd like to do it now, but he knows it's too soon."

It is most certainly not "too soon." 

It's not entirely clear how much of what's wrong would be cured by imposing a proper structure onto a Donald Trump White House. The president would still be ill-informed, intemperate, and just entirely unsuited for the job.

However, putting a real chief-of-staff in charge would at least help compensate for Trump's utter lack of management skills

The real problem here is that unless outsiders intervene, a Trump "staff shake-up" will most likely just replicate the current problems with different personnel. To be sure: Several White House players are utter disasters and should be replaced. And none of the current top players, including nominal chief of staff Reince Priebus, had any governing experience before the last three weeks, let alone White House experience. But a big part of the problem is Trump doesn't have the skills needed to, say, pick a White House press secretary or strategist, and doesn't have the experience and skills necessary to structure how the White House works. 

Indeed, while apparently Trump realizes things aren't going smoothly, it's not clear he has any sense of what the problem is. He's reportedly obsessed with press secretary Sean Spicer's daily briefings, for example, rather than with the process which has produced the negative stories Spicer has to deal with.  

As I've been saying, the solution which could at least fix some of what's broken is to bring in an experienced, capable White House chief of staff with the authority to clean house and set up a proper working structure. One in which executive actions have been properly examined by those who should weigh in before they are promulgated; presidential calls to foreign leaders are prepped with proper guidance about U.S. policy; executive branch nominees are vetted before being announced; and decisions about military action take place after a careful process, not over dinner with whoever happens to be around.

Oh, and a structure in which the president doesn't throw off the day's agenda by tweeting out something he sees on whatever cable news show he's watching.

Ethan Klapper @ethanklapper
Here we go -- @Morning_Joe full screen at 8:03. Trump tweet at 8:15 https://t.co/OApcgSIiZY
Twitter: Ethan Klapper on Twitter

Trump likely has no idea why things are going wrong. Every president believes they know better than anyone else, because every president, Republicans and Democrats alike, believes they are in the Oval Office in spite of whatever critics say about them. So while he certainly is likely to fire people and hire new ones -- that's part of his chaotic normal management style, as we saw in the campaign -- he's very unlikely to actually shift to a functional working style. At least, not on his own.

The hope is that senior Republicans would step in and impose a better structure on Trump's administration. So far, at least in public (and practically everything this administration does winds up in public within hours), that's not happening. They're not even floating names for a White House chief of staff who could get this thing back on the rails.

Too soon? For congressional Republicans, it's almost too late. Their strongest, easiest, leverage -- the cabinet confirmation process in the Senate -- isn't gone yet, but each time a nominee is confirmed, Republican leverage over Trump is diminished. And the White House train wreck continues.

  1. Trump isn't alone in this; even Barack Obama was known to consider communications his administration's weakness when things were going badly. rather than the policies being communicated. Almost every president falls into this particular trap - but few have White House operations as dysfunctional as Trump has.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mike Nizza at mnizza3@bloomberg.net