Emma Golden ’19 – Inside Politics Participant
The office of the White House Chief of Staff has been called the most grueling job in Washington. Not just for its long work hours (every day, Reince Priebus starts working at 6:30 AM and doesn’t leave until midnight), but because it takes a special type of person to tell the most powerful man in the country when he’s headed for disaster. When Richard Nixon ordered his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, to use lie detector tests on every employee of the State Department in response to a damaging series of leaks about Vietnam, Haldeman refused to execute the hasty and ill-conceived command.
A Chief of Staff’s willingness to wield power is especially important when a President is inexperienced in Washington. Obama’s first Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, emerged as the most powerful Chief in a generation by relentlessly delegating authority, pushing other staffers past their breaking points, and engineering a “do everything at once” strategy for the early days of the Obama White House.
Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has the unique challenge of serving a President who is both impulsive with decision-making and new to Washington, and, thus far, Priebus has failed. Where Haldeman was able to censor (some of) Nixon’s lunacy, Trump has blundered over phone calls with foreign leaders, Michael Flynn’s resignation, and criticisms of the press without Priebus’s supervision. Where Rahm Emanuel asserted authority by putting even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her place, Priebus is overshadowed by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner and is forced to clean up messes rather than prevent them. This is everything Trump wants in a Chief of Staff: someone whose weaknesses forbid a structured power hierarchy and allow Trump to act as he pleases. But, what Trump needs is a powerful Chief of Staff who brings order to an unconventional, volatile Oval Office. Priebus must adapt his leadership style to fill this role more competently.
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