Top Contender To Replace John Kelly Takes His Name Out Of Contention

President Trump's first choice to replace John Kelly as Chief of Staff turned the job down, leading one to wonder why anyone would want the job.

With reports that John Kelly’s departure as White House Chief of Staff could come sooner than the end of the year, the man who was at the top of Trump’s list to replace himself has taken himself out of contention and announced that he would be stepping down as Chief of Staff to Vice-President Pence:

As President Trump heads into the fight of his political life, the man he had hoped would help guide him through it has now turned him down, and he finds himself in the unaccustomed position of having no obvious second option.

Nick Ayers, the main focus of President Trump’s search to replace John F. Kelly as chief of staff in recent weeks, said on Sunday that he was leaving the administration at the end of the year. Mr. Ayers, 36, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is returning to Georgia with his wife and three young children, according to people familiar with his plans.

The decision leaves Mr. Trump to contend with fresh uncertainty as he enters the 2020 campaign amid growing danger from the Russia investigation and from Democrats who have vowed tougher oversight, and could even pursue impeachment, after they take over the House next month.

As the president hastily restarted the search process, speculation focused on a group that was led by Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is the hard-edge chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but also included the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin; Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney; and the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer.

Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who as a onetime United States attorney could help Mr. Trump in an impeachment fight, was also being mentioned. And some Trump allies were pushing for David N. Bossie, the deputy campaign manager in 2016.

Mr. Trump’s ultimate choice will be faced with a president whom the two previous chiefs of staff found nearly impossible to manage. But Mr. Meadows, for instance, could still aid Mr. Trump in the coming political battle with congressional leaders, despite his own frayed relationships on Capitol Hill. Weeks ago, Mr. Trump started asking people what they would think of Mr. Meadows, a fierce supporter of the president, as a chief of staff, before moving on to Mr. Ayers.

The president on Sunday disputed news reports that he had settled on Mr. Ayers as his pick. “I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff,” he said on Twitter. “Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!”

But two people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers’s appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.

Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the president, said Mr. Ayers’s “unique qualification was that he had been doing the same job for the vice president.” But “those of us with young kids very well understand the personal decision he made,” she said.

Other advisers to Mr. Trump were stunned by the turn of events. One former senior administration official called it a humiliation for Mr. Trump and his adult children, an emotion that the president tries to avoid at all costs.

For more than six months, Mr. Ayers had been viewed as the favored candidate of the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have been seen as maneuvering for greater control and influence around the president. They had clashed repeatedly with Mr. Kelly as he tried to establish more regulated channels to the president. Matt Drudge, an ally of Mr. Kushner, weeks ago posted a photo of Mr. Ayers on The Drudge Report as the next chief of staff.

But some West Wing officials said Mr. Ayers had been measured and cautious in recent days as he negotiated with Mr. Trump and his family. Before turning down the job, Mr. Ayers told the president that he would be willing to do it only on an interim basis, through the spring.

Mr. Trump wants a long-term chief of staff, given the difficult period approaching, and he and Mr. Ayers were unable to agree on certain other terms, including whom he could dispose of from the current staff, three people familiar with the events said.

Other factors may also have weighed on Mr. Ayers. His ascension to the top West Wing job would have meant newfound scrutiny of his personal finances — last year he reported a net worth of $12.2 million to $54.8 million, a sizable sum for a political operative in his 30s who has amassed his own fortune. He accumulated his wealth partly through a web of political and consulting companies in which he has held ownership stakes.

And Mr. Ayers, who has been seen as a potential candidate for statewide office in Georgia, could have potentially faced a fate shared by many who have left the administration: a diminished public standing after an ugly parting with a mercurial president who often insults his former aides on Twitter.

Ayers, who had become Pence’s second Chief Of Staff at roughly the same time that Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as the President’s Chief of Staff, has been floated as the potential replacement for Kelly for some time to come and it seemed as though his selection was pretty much assured. Based on media reports, though, including CNN, which first broke the news that Ayers would not be accepting the position, it appears that negotiations between Trump and Ayers broke down over issues such as how long Ayers would stay in the position and the authority he would have to replace certain White House personnel. Trump reportedly wanted a commitment that Ayres would remain for at least two years, meaning that he would stay through the 2020 election. Ayers was unwilling to make this commitment and also reportedly wanted to ensure he had the authority to replace top members of the White House Staff, which Trump was unwilling to give. Finally, it has been reported that Ayers and others had advised the President that Kelly should be allowed the dignity of announcing his departure himself. Instead, Trump went ahead and did it on his own even amid reports that Kelly had not shown up for work on Friday and was preparing to leave sooner rather than later regardless of what the previous plan might have been. Now it appears that Kelly may leave as soon as today, that Ayers has decided to leave the Vice-President’s office by the end of the year, and that there does not appear to be a viable replacement for either of them on the horizon.

To be honest, one has to wonder who would want to be the Chief of Staff to this President to begin with. If the tenure of John Kelly, and to a lesser extent Reince Priebus, has proven anything it is that this President cannot and will not be controlled. While Kelly was able to bring some order to the disordered West Wing that he inherited from Priebus, he was unable to fully control a President with a penchant for not sticking to an agenda and for going off on bizarre tangents on Twitter that often stepped all over whatever plans the White House Communications Office had for a particular day or week. Additionally, Kelly was not able to fully control access to the President in the manner that previous Chiefs of Staff to previous President had been able to. This has been especially true with respect to access to the President by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both of whom ostensibly hold positions in the White House that require them to report to the Chief of Staff rather than the President himself. If Kelly could not accomplish those goals then it seems unlikely that anyone else will be able to do so either. To a large degree, Trump has turned Chief of Staff into a mere figurehead role and, while the salary is generous, it’s not hard to understand why people outside the White House might not be willing to sacrifice their reputations for this President,

In addition to the above factors, anyone taking a position inside this White House has to be conscious of what they are likely to be inheriting. The filings last week in the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort cases by the Special Counsel and the U.S, Attorney in Manhattan, along with the impending Democratic takeover in the House, means that the White House will find itself increasingly under siege over the next two years and that people close to the President could find themselves in legal jeopardy, or at least forced to hire lawyers to represent them for what seems like an inevitable subpoena to appear before a Grand Jury in either Washington, D.C, Virginia, or New York City. Given all of this, it comes as no surprise that Politico’s Playbook isn’t finding much interest in the position:

“In any ordinary White House, the job he is declining — for what he calls family reasons — would be an ambitious insider’s dream. To take two recent examples: Rahm Emanuel, who served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, went on to serve as mayor of Chicago, and Leon Panetta, who spent two and a half years in the job under President Bill Clinton, served as CIA chief and Secretary of Defense.

“It’s a different story under Trump. A job that was once a ticket to Washington royalty has recently become a laughing stock. Trump’s first two top aides, Kelly and Reince Priebus before him, have left as diminished and arguably humiliated figures, unable to control the wild chaos of this president’s White House.” POLITICO

INDEED … WE MADE a round of calls last night about the chief of staff job and heard the same thing over and over again: No one wants it this time, and it’s an exceedingly bad phase of the administration to take the helm. Whoever takes over right now would likely be at Trump’s side when special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report drops, when Democrats on Capitol Hill start hammering him and as the market continues to slump.

Asking someone to become Chief of Staff at this point is kind of like asking for volunteers for a new Captain on the RMS Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, Presidency, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    It’s a different story under Trump. A job that was once a ticket to Washington royalty has recently become a laughing stock.

    Well, Trump’s done the same thing to the Presidency.

    Ayers didn’t just turn down the CoS job, he bailed altogether. Now he’s just associated with Pence, which will probably not do him any harm in Georgia.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    In any ordinary White House, the job he is declining — for what he calls family reasons — would be an ambitious insider’s dream.

    No reasonable society would let an ambitious insider anywhere near a position of authority, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    Are there no more blond talking heads left at FOX?

  4. CSK says:

    Trump wants a “long-term chief of staff.” Apparently, he doesn’t realize that with him, the term (and the position) is an oxymoron.

  5. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    I think Tucker Carlson has effectively removed himself from consideration.

  6. mattbernius says:

    What’s the over/under on the position ultimately being filled by a member of Trump’s family (Kushner or Ivanka)?

    It’s also worth noting that Trump himself has, according to reporting, questioned whether or not the position is even necessary.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    OT but related to the topic of Chaos In Government: it looks like the muck-up about Brexit is not the first time the U.K. government has managed to turn itself into an object of hilarity. The full story is at the above link but this paragraph captures the situation in a microcosm:

    The Government then proceeded to spend vast amounts of public money building roads to replace these railways which needed closing down because the Government didn’t have any public money available to spend on keeping them running.

  8. Kathy says:

    To be honest, one has to wonder who would want to be the Chief of Staff to this President to begin with.

    Masochists. People doing very hard penance. Death row convicts given an out in exchange for taking the position. A Democratic plant (though that’s iffy). A Russian mole (dream job!)

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  9. sam says:

    “To be honest, one has to wonder who would want to be the Chief of Staff to this President to begin with.”

    Rudy “I Got This” Giuliani comes to mind.

  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    It’s being reported that Mick Mulvaney, Robert Lightizer, and Steve Mnuchin were also offered the job and turned it down.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @sam: Giuliani makes a kind of bizarre sense. What is the new chief of staff going to be dealing with? Investigations. Scandal. Indictments. Impeachment. Russia. Russia. Russia. And the whole time he will be lied to, humiliated and abused by Trump, as well as undermined at every step by Ivanka, Jared and the rest of the toxic behind-the-scenes schemers. So, Trump is left with shanghaiing a new idiot into the position or going with one of the old ones. Rudy perfectly fits that description: “Old Idiot”.

  12. Slugger says:

    At this point, no one cares, but this event shows Trump’s management style. He announces an appointment before getting a yes from the appointee. This is similar to his announcement of an agreement with Xi that boosted the Dow on December 2. Lesson to be learned: take a deep breath before acting on Trump statements.
    I would not take the CoS job based on the public humiliation that Priebus endured. If the boss wants to fire you, that’s one thing, but Priebus was clearly debased and denigrated. Mr. Ayers may also feel that association with Trump will put a stink on his future prospects; he is young and needs to be concerned about this. Finally, in this age I may have become too cynical, but I wonder if Mr. Ayers has some reason to fear being in the public eye such as a serious past misdeed.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: Christie would pretty well fit your list. And last we saw of him, he looked like he’d take anything.

  14. Guarneri says:

    I think James Comey would be an excellent choice, provided he can control these pesky and, ahem, very selective, memory lapses.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: WRT Christie, I’ve had a seven dimensional chess kind of fantasy. Christie takes the Attorney General job and uses it to exact revenge on both Trump (for all the humiliations he has suffered at Trump’s tiny hands) and Kushner (for Kushner’s exacting revenge for Christie putting Kushner’s father in jail). In Christies’ scheme this will return him from political death and make him palatable to at least people in NJ.

    I suppose Chief of Staff could also be used to launch such a mission.

    In the long run though, only someone very wealthy could be Trump’s CoS, simply because they will spend the next 3-5 years being subpoenaed and investigated to within a penny of their bank balance. (Of course, this doesn’t rule out idiots who can’t see what they are getting into)

  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    So: Do we start an OTB betting pool for the following:

    1) Trump impeachment date?
    2) President Pence’s VP choice?
    3) Date when Pence gives the trump blanket amnesty?

    The special powerball: 4) Date that President Pence is impeached.

    I can’t wait to learn who will be the new Gerald Ford.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    2) & 4): Under 25th amendment, new VP has to be approved by both houses of congress. House Garland’s any replacement attempt to keep the slot vacant, so when Pence gets impeached, Nancy Pelosi becomes President.

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  18. steve says:

    Sean Hannity is the obvious choice. He already determines half of Trumps beliefs and policies. Make it official.

    Steve

  19. Just nutha igrant cracker says:

    As the president hastily restarted the search process, speculation focused on a group that was led by Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is the hard-edge chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but also included the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin; Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney; and the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer.

    Of course, the real beauty of this paragraph is that it shows that any of the above choices would create a gap equal in magnitude to void Kelly’s departure leaves. Trump has been reduced to cannibalizing his own administration.

  20. Kathy says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    2) President Pence’s VP choice?

    I hear Dan Quayle is available.

  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @steve: Hannity, a good choice. Put a TV camera in the CoS’ office and have him communicate with Tiny during “Executive Time”

  22. Tyrell says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: The news media and sources I follow are not into the pessimism, and obsession with slanted gossip like many of the networks are.
    Gas prices are down*, employment is up, home construction is booming, and new businesses are opening. Even new churches are opening.
    People here are happy, optimistic, and thankful.
    *$1.83/gallon: I’ll take it.

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  23. Pylon says:

    Roseanne Barr needs a job.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    No reasonable society would let an ambitious insider anywhere near a position of authority, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    Sadly, we live in an unreasonable society. And seeing as all societies are unreasonable, or at least illogical, they all reward the ambitious who inevitably take the insider track because that is the one sure way to authority. Sucks to be human.

    WHERE ARE THE VULCANS???!!?!?!!!???

  25. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    WHERE ARE THE VULCANS???!!?!?!!!???

    They fled beyond the rim.

    Ooops. Wrong show.

  26. Slugger says:

    @Guarneri: I totally agree with you. Comey has the experience and history of a good CoS. He can navigate complex bureaucracies and has people management skills. And yes, keeping his cool under hostile questioning is a plus.
    On that last point, we do have to make allowances for being questioned by Gowdy. The Hillz hearings showed Gowdy to be a mule in the Kentucky Derby.
    It is a shame that Trump can’t command the respect of someone like Comey. I hear that all over Washington people are telling their children to say that Daddy is out of town if the White House calls.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: I would only trust Pence to honor a promise to pardon Trump if Trump has something on Pence or other top GOPs. Of course he likely does. And I’ve always thought that was exactly the situation with Nixon, Ford and the GOPs of that time.

    On second thought, I don’t think even the GOPs are dumb enough to allow a Prez Pence. They’ll want to pull an an Agnew and install someone else as Veep before Trump resigns or is impeached.

    On third thought, I forgot the Koch Bros own Pence. They’d love to pay the GOPs to install Pence as Prez.

  28. Pylon says:

    @gVOR08: I would only trust Pence to honor a promise to pardon Trump if Trump has something on Pence or other top GOPs. Of course he likely does.

    Given that Pence is a so anti-gay, and given past party history, I expect there are pics of him with young men in various states of undress.

  29. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @Tyrell:

    The news media and sources I follow are not into the pessimism, and obsession with slanted gossip like many of the networks are.
    Gas prices are down*, employment is up, home construction is booming, and new businesses are opening.

    Gas prices are averaging 2.41 a gallon. There’s not a state in the nation that has an average anywhere close to the price you are claiming (source: https://gasprices.aaa.com/top-trends/)–your claim is 10% lower than the lowest average price in the nation. It’s almost like you pulled that number out of thin air.

    And while gas prices have fallen some since September, we’ve been on a nearly three year period of rising gas prices: https://ycharts.com/indicators/gas_price

    Employment has been near capacity for a few years. Last months jobs report didn’t meet expectations and represented a fall off in new jobs compared to previous months, WHILE heading into the holiday season.

    So perhaps you should pay attention to the slanted, gossipy media because whatever the hell you’re reading seems to be making sh!t up as it goes.