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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

OPINION:

The Jan. 6 committee, which has been rightly criticized for being more about politics than about justice, has had at least one salutary effect: It has reminded everyone that former President Donald Trump’s principal deficiency as president was an inability to hire, retain and just generally have competent people in his personal orbit.

The latest and perhaps most ridiculous example of this is the new news that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, arranged to have a (British!) documentary filmmaker wander around the West Wing and film Mr. Trump and his family in the waning days of the administration. Maggie Haberman at The New York Times reported, “The filmmaker was connected to Mr. Kushner by Jason Greenblatt, a former lawyer at the Trump Organization. … The film was envisioned as a legacy project for Mr. Trump.”


Of course it was.

The dog’s breakfast of human beings who were allowed to attach themselves to the president in the waning days of his tenure provides a cautionary tale. Lawyers with theories but no evidence (thank you, Rudy Giuliani). Salesmen with no product. Shamans with defective vision. Unfortunately, they were simply the final and most questionable group to participate in the administration.

Think about the arc of the Trump administration for a moment. The first chief of staff was ineffective. The second chief was actively and, in many instances, openly hostile to much of what Mr. Trump wanted to accomplish. The last chief was, to be charitable, only marginally competent and given to crying in public.

There were also a fair number of Democrats in senior and important positions in the administration. The list includes family members who worked for the president (the Kushners changed their registration very late in the day), the first director of the National Economic Council and theTreasury secretary. Peter Navarro, who was an assistant to the president, ran for elected office as a Democrat or an independent no fewer than five times.

Mr. Trump’s fascination with military officers also caused difficulties, as generals were hired because they sounded or looked good (think Gen. James Mattis), not necessarily because they were competent or aligned.

There were exceptions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a gifted diplomat who served his country extraordinarily well. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was a competent leader of the sprawling and fundamentally ungovernable Department of Defense. There were, of course, others who did their jobs well.

This all seems intensely relevant as we head into the final few months of the 2022 election and make the clubhouse turn toward 2024. Those who are thinking about voting for the former president, especially in the primaries, should include in their mental architecture the suboptimal record of the administration with respect to hiring and keeping competent and philosophically aligned staff.

They should also keep in mind that Mr. Trump, should he be elected in 2024, would immediately become a lame duck. That status would further complicate and retard the administration’s ability to recruit talented people to place their lives on hold and go to work in an administration that would have just four years to execute its agenda.

It is also important to note that there is no indication that the president or his team has improved their ability to identify and recruit talent. The endorsement process in the last few months has been neither linear nor has it experienced unmixed success.

Finally, those who intend to vote in the Republican primaries in 2024 should remain aware that some features of the landscape are unlikely to change. Mr. Trump’s family, including his in-laws, will remain non-negotiable features of the landscape if there is a second term for Mr. Trump.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. 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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