Sunday, December 4, 2022


Two bits of news emerged last month that should give those prepared to vote for a second term for former President Donald Trump a moment of pause.

The first news appeared in Politico and focused on how helpful one particular White House staffer — deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell — had been to Team Biden during the transition. For context, Mr. Liddell was hired by John Kelly (Mr. Trump’s second chief of staff) and Jared Kushner, and his principal responsibility appeared to be (not unlike that of Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kushner) to complicate and retard the ability of any idea or approach favored by the president from emerging intact from the “policy process.”

The story shared the emotional twists and turns of the transition from Mr. Trump to President Biden, all with a clear thematic that Mr. Liddell’s presence in that transition was considered essential by Team Biden.

The second story was a mention in a newsletter that Cassidy Hutchinson, a former staffer in the Office of Legislative Affairs during the Trump administration, was cooperating with Georgia prosecutors in their efforts to damage Mr. Trump.

You may remember that Ms. Hutchinson offered some aggressive hearsay in the show trial portion of the special committee on Jan. 6th. For context, Ms. Hutchinson was promoted to a senior role (at the age of 24) by Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s final chief of staff.

What do these two people — one an accomplished executive with turns at Microsoft and General Motors under his belt and one a fresh-out-of-college newbie to Washington — have in common?

Well, both were the products of flawed personnel decision-making by Mr. Trump. Unfortunately, they were more the rule than the exceptions.

For example, the former president selected and kept Gen. Kelly as his second chief of staff for 17 months, despite his open hostility to Mr. Trump’s policy preferences. The former president chose Mr. Meadows as his final chief of staff despite his obvious inability to manage personnel or maintain his composure under even modest duress; former House Speaker John Boehner recounts Mr. Meadows on his knees before him begging for forgiveness in the wake of an aborted coup in the House.

Both hires — and in turn the people they hired — call into question the ability of the former president to select staff that are predisposed to and have the capacity to drive his agenda. These are merely two examples. There are dozens of others.

That shortcoming will become especially acute if there is a second term, as Mr. Trump will be a lame duck once he raises his hand and takes the oath. Under the best of circumstances, staffing a lame-duck administration is difficult, as few are willing to take the risk of playing what can devolve into a game of professional musical chairs.

In the Reagan administration, the mantra was always that personnel is policy, that who you appoint will directly affect what you can achieve and the extent to which your changes to the government are durable. That is absolutely true. Mr. Trump and his team need to embed that in their thinking and devise a solution to personnel selection that works.

Otherwise, a second term will be much like the first term: chaotic, lacking in direction, riven with personal rivalries and vendettas, and full of leadership and staff that at times actively oppose the president.

The absolute minimum needed to avoid this fate is if the president himself realizes the importance of personnel and takes care to appoint competent, aligned, dedicated people.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated Podcast.” He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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