I know the title of this missive has already upset the President Trump loyalists out there, but one has to be honest. Yes, President Trump has never been in elected political office. Yes, President Trump is a political outsider coming from the private sector, business world. However, the steepest learning curve it appears from this perch is that President Trump has yet to embrace the idea that he is the Leader of the free world, Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, Chief Executive of the federal government, and de facto head of the Republican Party. Simply stated, this is not about him, and this requires an ability to direct and delegate, trusting others to achieve your guidance.
However, when the crafting of guidance is missing and your team is chasing your social media messaging, dysfunction finds a home. Yes, I will say there is a bit of discovery and learning going on here, and we have seen previous presidential administrations get off to rocky starts. The one major difference for the Trump administration is that it has an entire apparatus standing in opposition. With that being the situation, the atmosphere, it perhaps would benefit President Trump to speak less about the “Art of the Deal” and pick up Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”. As well, President Trump must come to understand policy cannot be expressed in 140 characters. Yes, I grasp the concept of unconventional but unpredictability is not a strategy…it can be a sometimes used tactic.
We learned late Friday evening that President Trump has made another change to his White House. He has decided to shift retired Marine Four-Star General John Kelly from Secretary of Homeland Security to White House Chief of Staff. The question that everyone watching this week will be, can General Kelly bring function to this dysfunctional White House? More importantly, can he discipline President Trump?
When you look around the world you will find some very serious hot spots. For the past eight years, we have witnessed an administration that used insidious and absurd references such as “lead from behind,” “strategic patience,” and when it came to foreign policy the mantra was “don’t do stupid s!@t”. In that time, the enemies and adversaries of our Republic expanded their interests and grew stronger. Now is a time when we need a precision like strategy that is conveyed by conventional means to this nation, our responsible departments and agencies, and to our opponents. Without clear guidance and directives, we find ourselves at this time in a dangerous state of inertia, as reflected in the collapse of the repeal and reform efforts for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.
And now what to do, are we to believe that we can have an effective tax reform legislative solution from the Republicans if they couldn’t come together to rectify the new taxes of Obamacare?
What is required from the Trump White House is discipline, and clear policy guidance. Let me present an example, you cannot praise the House GOP health care bill with a White House ceremony, then later refer to it as “mean”. You cannot publicly shame and assail your own Attorney General, the top law enforcement officer in the country – then preach about loyalty.
General Kelly will officially take the reins as White House Chief of Staff today, what will have to change in order to get this ship heading towards the tranquil seas of functionality?
First, General Kelly must be the primary staff coordinator and synchronizer, and everyone in the White House needs to understand you see him first. This is not about blocking access but if there is to be consistency, and reduction of leaks, the Chief of Staff is the hub of the wheel, and all spokes lead to him. President Trump must empower him to that point, and that means the recent comments by the new WH Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, that he only answers to the President must change. Mr. Scaramucci answers to the Chief of Staff, as does everyone on the staff. President Trump must issue an internal WH directive establishing the duties, responsibilities, and empower General Kelly. This also means Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, or any Trump children, do not discuss policy issues with President Trump unless cleared by the Chief of Staff. This is not about Daddy or a family operation, things have to change in this White House. If it is anything less, I do not expect General Kelly to stick around.
The biggest point of discipline has to be with the President himself. General Kelly must have that eyeball to eyeball conversation with the President and have him understand, “you do not tweet or say anything which I have not have the opportunity to review.” This is the only way for General Kelly to ensure he has the respect of President Trump. The last thing General Kelly needs is to be asked about something the President tweeted, or said, for which he was not aware. That can only happen so many times before there will be another eyeball to eyeball conversation.
The risk in this endeavor for President Trump is simple, just as it was with President Obama. President Obama went through four Defense Secretaries and those in the know realized it was not them, but him. If General Kelly is not the Chief of Staff a year from now, or if there is still this sense of dysfunction emanating from the White House, the Nation will not see him as the issue.
One of the seminal lessons you learn in the military about leadership is that a true leader must first be a true follower. Let’s see if General John Kelly can get President Trump to learn that lesson quickly. Yes, we have had good GDP numbers, jobs are being created, but if we do not have the requisite healthcare and tax reforms necessary for long term economic growth none of that will matter. And, if we continue to witness the growing threats without a strong response, not just show of force, strong economic growth will mean nothing.
Tall order for President Trump but with a strong Chief of Staff it can be done…but if General Kelly can bring function to dysfunction, President Trump must admit to the latter.