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Trump doesn't need an 'SOB' chief of staff

Some have likened President Donald Trump to former President Richard Nixon. Whether Trump's legal woes make ...

Posted: Dec 13, 2018 10:39 PM
Updated: Dec 13, 2018 10:39 PM

Some have likened President Donald Trump to former President Richard Nixon. Whether Trump's legal woes make that comparison valid remains to be seen. However, as he seeks a new White House chief of staff, I cannot help but think about what Nixon's notorious White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, reportedly said: "Every President needs an S.O.B. -- and I'm Nixon's."

While that may have been true for Nixon, in the case of Trump, it could be argued he fills that role himself. Which is to say, Trump doesn't need to hire an SOB. If anything, he needs a nice guy (or gal), who can build bridges, boost morale and give a sense of stability and order to the White House.

Donald Trump

Political Figures - US

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Richard Nixon

Ronald Reagan

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As I learned when serving in Ronald Reagan's administration, it really does matter who the White House chief of staff is. In eight years, Reagan had four chiefs, three of whom made significant contributions to the success of his presidency, and one of whom almost brought it down.

His first chief of staff, James A. Baker, III, is widely credited for setting the gold standard of how a White House should be run, but more than that, Baker played a key role in crafting the Reagan administration's economic policy and selling it to Congress.

Baker's only mistake, in which he was joined by then-Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, was convincing Reagan to allow him to swap jobs with Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, it was anything but. Regan's imperious style and failure to grasp that the President was the only star in the show was a disaster.

Indeed, the Tower Commission, which examined the Iran-Contra scandal that almost brought down the Reagan presidency, blamed Regan for "the chaos that descended upon the White House."

Reagan knew that Regan's replacement had to be more than an able administrator with good relations on Capitol Hill. He instinctively understood that his selection needed to send the critical message that he had been honest with the American people and that his presidency remained viable.

There was only one person whose appointment as chief of staff would accomplish that -- former Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr., whose conduct during the Watergate hearings established him as the embodiment of integrity in public service. Patriot that he was, Baker agreed to Reagan's request to serve as White House chief of staff.

When the announcement was made, a sigh of relief among Reagan's staff could be heard on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. To his credit, Baker did not pretend to be an administrator, and relied on a combination of longtime aides of his own as well as existing Reagan White House aides to run the day-to-day operation. He assumed the much-needed role of adviser to the President. When Baker decided to step down, Reagan turned to Kenneth Duberstein, Baker's highly respected deputy and longtime White House aide with unmatched connections on Capitol Hill, to guide the presidential ship.

Reagan's selection of Howard Baker and Duberstein proved wise: Without the distraction of a chaotic White House, Reagan was able to negotiate a historic nuclear arms reduction treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which many believe was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

That the Trump White House is unlike any other in recent memory is indisputable. Whether that is good or bad is an open question. Clearly, the people voted for change in 2016. But so, too, did they vote for a White House that produces results. The stakes are high: Our red-hot economy shows signs of slowing down, our relationships with Russia, China and North Korea -- not to mention Europe -- are unstable, and how we treat people with whom we disagree is in serious need of fixing.

As the President approaches the second half of his first term, he -- and the country -- would be well served by the appointment of a chief of staff who, rather than being an SOB, is an individual who knows his or her way around Washington, has a thick skin, no ego and is resolutely focused on getting things done.

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