Chief Of Staff Donald Trump?

Donald Trump may be getting ready to act as his own Chief of Staff. That would be a huge mistake.

Amid all the White House staff turmoil, NBC News is reporting that President Trump has at least considered the idea of ousting Chief of Staff John Kelly and replacing him with, well, Donald Trump:

WASHINGTON — In the midst of a Cabinet shake-up and a possible staff upheaval, President Donald Trump considered firing his chief of staff this month and not naming a successor, according to three people familiar with the discussions. Trump has mused to close associates about running the West Wing as he did his business empire, essentially serving as his own chief of staff, these people said.

In conversations with allies outside the White House, the president envisioned a scenario in which a handful of top aides would report directly to him — bypassing the traditional gatekeeper position. The president hasn’t publicly discussed his deliberations.

Trump, who is said to always be reimagining his staff positions, appears to have tabled the suggestion for now. His second chief of staff, John Kelly, remains in his role after intense speculation about his job security. But the president was intrigued by, and seriously considered, the idea of not replacing him had he left.

Trump liked the idea particularly because it would be more in line with how the former CEO conducted business in the private sector: with a more open-door policy that allowed him unfettered access to outsiders and fewer roadblocks to decision making. And he has privately pointed to precedent in the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, people familiar with the discussions said.

Some allies grumbled about the feasibility of removing what in past administrations had been a critical position charged with managing the operations of staff in the White House, as well as the information flow, decision-making process and access to the president.

But several sources close to the administration argued it wouldn’t be such a departure from the current status: “Donald Trump is the chief of staff. He already calls the shots,” said one.

The president’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, raised the prospect Thursday at a Financial Times forum, suggesting the president should become his own chief of staff if Kelly ever departed.

“I’ve actually argued that if General Kelly at any time does decide to leave — (or) the president decides it’s time for him to move on — I don’t believe there will be another chief of staff,” Bannon said. “I think there will be five or six direct reports like there was in Trump Tower.”

Given all the staff departures we’ve seen just since the start of the new year, culminating most recently with the departure of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and rumors that other officials may be on the way out, the idea of another high-level departure from this White House would not be surprising in the least. Indeed, rumors that John Kelly may be on his way out the door have been circulating in Washington for months, with the most recent such report coming just over six weeks ago. Many of these reports have indicated that the President, who was used to having an “open door” policy as businessmen in which aides and employees would be reporting directly to him in an office environment that many have described as chaotic even for the typically fast-moving world of high-stakes real estate development, has chaffed under the order that Kelly has sought to impose on White House operations since taking over from Reince Priebus last summer. In particular, it’s also been reported that Kelly has clashed with the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner over control over access to the President. Additionally, it’s worth noting that, with the notable exception of George W. Bush, who had only two Chiefs of Staff over eight years in office, the typical tenure for a Chief of Staff in the modern era has been roughly 13 to 15 months. (Source) Given this, the idea that Kelly might move on at some point is hardly surprising.

Much less conventional, of course, is the idea of a President essentially operating without a net and effectively serving as their own Chief of Staff. To some extent, this is what happened during the Presidencies of both Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, although both men at least had someone serving in the role to some extent or another. Additionally, it now seems to be the case that this was pretty much how things operated in the early days of the Trump Presidency when Reince Priebus was Chief of Staff by name but the White House was clearly one where Priebus was not serving in the same kind of gatekeeper role that previous Chiefs of Staff had performed. As with previous Presidents who operated their White Houses in this matter, this led to a rather chaotic situation in the early months of the Trump Administration that led to very little of substance actually getting done and a President who clearly had an inability to remain focused on a message for more than a day or two.

To a large degree, of course, the Chief of Staff position is a relatively new development in American government. Previous Presidents had operated with one or more persons who served in a role typically referred to as “Private Secretary,” but it wasn’t until the end of World War Two that the office that eventually came to be called “Chief of Staff” came into existence. To a large degree, such a position was made necessary due to the fact that the Federal Government had expanded to such a degree during the New Deal and the war that the idea of a President being able to sort out all the functions of the government and all the information that flows on a daily was clearly a fantasy. Since then, most of the Presidencies that have functioned well have done so thanks to the fact that there is a well-managed White House with a Chief of Staff who acts as a gatekeeper to the President and a superviser of a White House Staff that is often populated by people with clashing agendas and clashing interests. The idea of a Trump Presidency without someone even trying to play that role as Kelly has done since July should be of concern to everyone.

FILED UNDER: Environment, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Donald Trump may be getting ready to act as his own Chief of Staff do something, that would be a huge mistake.

    Sorry, just couldn’t pass it up.

  2. Lounsbury says:

    Well… if it means him being even less effective, then perhaps it is in fact a good thing.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Any competent chief of staff will inevitably make Trump look clownishly unprepared by contrast. Trump finds that intolerable. He is Dunning-Kruger made flesh. This bumbling cretin actually thinks everything would be OK if only he got his way instantly, on everything. He’s that stupid. His followers are even dumber.

    This White House is falling apart. The State Department is hollowed-out, the Department of Justice is under constant attack by Trump himself, and the White House is staffed with servile lackeys and criminally-compromised incompetents like Jared and Ivanka.

    And day after tomorrow we get to hear all about how Trump boned porn stars with his wife just down the hall recuperating from childbirth.

    This is not a joke. This country is in serious danger.

  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Trump is trying to be his own babysitter?

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: Priebus and Kelly likely both made the mistake of thinking their job has something to do with governance. Without a Chief of Staff, Trump can simply order Russia sanctions lifted without having to make up some reason that doesn’t have to do with Trump Tower Moscow.

  6. Kathy says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Trump is trying to be his own babysitter?

    Of course not. He lacks the maturity of a twelve year old girl.

  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    And he has privately pointed to precedent in the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter

    All of whom were one term presidents…

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter
    All of whom were one term presidents…

    Um…I don’t think Kennedy’s single term had anything to do with that.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    I watch the news obsessively (unless I deprive myself with a hike for a few days) and I’ve seen a lot. I used the phrase here, quite a while ago, ‘to me Watergate still seems like current events’. I took an amazing number of history courses back in the late ’60s, early 70s on my way to a useless but wonderful degree. And I don’t believe we’ve ever been here before. Maybe some people claimed that Jefferson would open the door of the Potomac to the French or some damn thing. Or a few actually believed Ike was a Commie.

    But it looks more and more like the worst thing it could be, is what it is. A Russian stooge with a personality disorder. Where did we find him?

    Damn! We are so screwed.

  10. Joe says:

    Putting aside for just one second what a complete dumpster fire this man and this administration are, I have been saying for two years that one fundamental problem with Trump (and it’s not the most important problem) is that his management style is not scalable. He is a one-man show and what he can’t do himself won’t get done. Maybe it works for a family business. And some can argue whether it even worked for the Trump business, but it will not work for even a large business, let alone the federal government. This can’t work (as a surprise to no one). He can’t do it (as a surprise to no one).

  11. Franklin says:

    “I was just with President Trump and H.R. McMaster in the Oval Office,” the spokesman, Michael Anton, said in a statement provided to pool reporters. “President Trump said that the NBC News story is ‘fake news,’ and told McMaster that he is doing a great job.”

    That’s from March 1st. What do we call fake news that’s real?

  12. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    All of whom were one term presidents…

    Yeah, but with a bit of an asterisk with Kennedy, no?

  13. Bill says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Yeah, but with a bit of an asterisk with Kennedy, no?

    Which was fired from either the Texas Schoolbook Depository or the grassy knoll depending on who you believe.

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    @Stormy Dragon:..All of whom were one term presidents

    I think it is critical to point out that Carter lost election to a second term by ballot.
    When Lyndon Johnson said: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” He had served as President USA for 60+ months.
    President John Kennedy’s term was ended by bullet.

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    @Neil Hudelson:

    Well, we’re never know for sure, but I don’t think Kennedy would have won reelection in 1964. His approval rating had dropped steadily all through 1962, got a brief bump from the Cuban missile crisis and then resumes dropping steadily all through 1963 and was getting close to the 50% mark when he was assassinated:

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    Can someone free my comment from moderation?

  17. gVOR08 says:

    There’s the old saw that anyone who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer. Does the same apply to President and CoS?

  18. Kathy says:

    I guess the bottom of the barrel wasn’t low enough to meet his standards.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    “I shall not seek. . .”

    One of those rare moments that is engraved on my memory. I was just starting to become political.

    It’s also good to remind ourselves that we made it through the 60’s and the Nixon era and did survive. And all it cost was 55,000 American service men and women, a million or so dead Vietnamese, the Cambodian Killing Fields. . . But we survived. Except for the dead people.

  20. They Saved Nixon's Brain says:

    If it it wasn’t for that bigmouth Alexander Butterfield I could have burned the tapes and finished out my second term in a blaze of glory!

    Nothing would please the Kremlin more than to have the people of this country choose a second rate president. RMN

  21. Mister Bluster says:

    @michael reynolds:..One of those rare moments

    That and the day John Kennedy was shot dead like a Parkland, Florida High School Student.

  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    @michael reynolds: I personally know lots of people, some of whom are smarter and better informed than Trump, who think that everything would be better if people just did what they said. This is a very common human failing, and not at all the result of being stupid.

    I recall once saying those exact words, “It would be so much better if people just did what you said, woudn’t it?” to a Principal Engineer on a project I worked on. I meant it as a joke. He said, “Yes!” with such a sense of enthusiasm and regret, I concluded that he hadn’t understood it as a joke at all. And he, unlike Trump, was a man I found quite pleasant to work with.

    But on the primary topic, I am not sure that dropping the Chief of Staff would be a mistake from Trump’s view. He’s very good at activating and energizing his base. He will probably continue to be so, and maybe be a little better without a CoS. That base is responsible for all his success. It might further alienate some Republicans and Independents, but they haven’t shown much sign of weakening yet.

    From an operational point of view, though, it seems like a disaster. I think of Jimmy Carter as a wonderful person, but not a particularly effective president.

  23. Mister Bluster says:

    Come to think of it, I remember where I was when the Cuban Missle Crisis was happening.

    I wish I could remember to take my medication every day.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “I shall not seek. . .”

    I was in a dorm room, studying, and half listening on the radio. I said to myself, ‘Huh, I thought he said he wouldn’t run. I wonder what he really said.” Then I heard cheering in the hallway. Then we had the Chicago Convention. Then we got Nixon. Who had a secret plan. To hold on until his second term and then quit.

  25. Lit3Bolt says:

    Trump wants to conduct espionage against the US, and that’s hard with Americans surrounding him.