President Trump says he will be making a decision “soon” on a new chief of staff. But some of the candidates whose names have been floated for the post say they’re not interested.
It seems people are not exactly lining up for the chance to try to organize Trump’s impulsive and unpredictable operation, especially in the face of an aggressive special counsel’s investigation and newly empowered Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“You have to wonder who would want to take this job,” said Chris Whipple, who chronicled the demands of the chief of staff position in his book The Gatekeepers.
Whipple noted that James Baker, who served as chief of staff to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, called it the worst job in government. “That’s under the best of circumstances,” Whipple said. “And these are not the best of times.”
Trump has already burned through two staff chiefs in less than two years. John Kelly, the retired Marine general who attempted to instill military discipline around Trump, is expected to leave by the end of the year. Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, had been considered the front-runner to replace Kelly, but Ayers took himself out of the running over the weekend.
“I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” Ayers tweeted on Sunday.
Hours later, Trump tweeted that he is “in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position.”
While Trump didn’t name any candidates publicly, press reports have identified several possibilities, including White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
Lighthizer and Meadows have already tried to tamp down speculation. Lighthizer said he has his hands full, steering trade negotiations with China, which are on a tight, 90-day timeline.
“I’m flattered that the president wants me to be United States trade representative,” Lighthizer told CBS’s Face the Nation. “Working closely with him, I hope to accomplish the goals that he set out for me in that job.”
Meadows has told associates he is “absolutely not” interested in the White House job, according to CNN.
In addition to the stress of managing the White House and dealing with a divided Congress, the new chief of staff will face the legal challenges surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“You really have to, if you’re going into that job, seriously think of lawyering up because of the legal risks that go along with having private conversations with Donald Trump,” Whipple said. “The worst-case scenario is you become H.R. Haldeman, who went to jail for 18 months after participating in Richard Nixon’s cover-up.”
As hard as it may be to find someone both willing and qualified for the post, it could be critical to the president.
“I think this is a watershed moment for the Trump presidency,” Whipple said. “If he cannot get this job right and the right person in it, there’s going to be a world of hurt ahead.”
Trump chafed under Kelly’s effort to impose limits on him. But Whipple argued that “letting Trump be Trump” is a recipe for failure.
“You can’t run the White House like the 26th floor of Trump Tower and expect to get anything done,” he said. “You cannot govern effectively without empowering a White House chief to execute your agenda and tell you hard truths.”
Trump himself seemed to acknowledge as much during his predecessor’s tenure.
“3 Chiefs of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President,” Trump tweeted back in 2012. “Part of the reason why @BarackObama can’t manage to pass his agenda.”
Trump is on pace to break that record, as he looks for his third chief of staff in less than 24 months.