Tuesday 17 September 2019

Trump chief-of-staff search 'like a reality TV show' as fresh names emerge

Video grab taken from ITV of US President Donald Trump (left) being interviewed by ITV's Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan. Photo: ITV
Video grab taken from ITV of US President Donald Trump (left) being interviewed by ITV's Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan. Photo: ITV
Piers Morgan

Catherine Lucey and Jonathan Lemire

US President Donald Trump's search for a new chief of staff has taken on the feel of a reality TV show as fresh names emerge all the time, including journalist and TV presenter Piers Morgan.

No leading name has emerged in the days since Mr Trump's preferred candidate to replace John Kelly bowed out, but the void has quickly filled with drama.

Good Morning Britain presenter Mr Morgan suggested he would be a good fit in an article for The Daily Mail while former major league slugger Jose Canseco tweeted his interest to Mr Trump. Speculation has swirled around an array of Trump associates, prompting some to distance themselves from the job.

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich visited the White House this week, he insisted it was merely to see the Christmas decorations.

Mr Trump met former New Jersey governor Chris Christie to discuss the job on Thursday, sources claimed.

The chaotic process is hardly a novelty for the Trump administration, which has struggled with high staff turnover and attracting top talent, but it underscored the tumult of Mr Trump's Washington.

In past administrations, chief of staff was a sought-after job, typically awarded after a careful process. Now, many view the job as a risky proposition, given Mr Trump's propensity for disorder and his resistance to being managed.

For his part, Mr Trump insisted on Thursday that the process is moving along.

"We're interviewing people now for chief of staff," he said, adding that the short list is now "five people. Really good ones. Terrific people. Mostly well-known, but terrific people".

Mr Trump himself likes to feed the drama, dropping hints about the number of candidates in the running and bantering with journalists about who wants the job.

The erratic search recalled the transition period before Mr Trump took office, when prospective aides and television personalities paraded before a pack of journalists in the lobby of Trump Tower.

Author Chris Whipple, an expert on chiefs of staff, called the search process "sad to watch".

"In his first two years, Trump devalued the position by failing to empower anyone to perform the job, and now he's turned the search for a replacement into a reality show," said Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers, a book on the subject.

"The only thing more broken and dysfunctional than the White House itself seems to be the search for the new White House chief of staff."

The president's hunt for a new chief reverted to square one over the weekend when Nick Ayers, vice president Mike Pence's chief of staff, took himself out of the running and decided that he would instead leave the White House.

The announcement surprised even senior staffers who believed that Mr Ayers' ascension was a done deal.

Mr Trump then turned to a list of other candidates that was said to include Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Representative Mark Meadows, (Republican, North Carolina), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Other possible options mentioned were US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, though both signalled they were happy in their current roles.

By Wednesday, Mr Meadows was out of the running, with the White House saying Mr Trump thinks he is needed in Congress.

Throughout the week, a number of other names were floated, including former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, White House communications director Bill Shine and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It was not clear how many of those options were being taken seriously.

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