Is there anyone who wants to hang with Donald Trump?
He’s not wanted.
Not at funerals, though the Bush family, to show class and respect for tradition, held their noses and made an exception.
Not in England, where they turned him into a big, hideous blimp.
Not by moderate Republicans, or at least the shrinking club with a tenuous claim to that label, who pushed him away during the midterms as they fought for their survival and clung to their last shreds of self-respect.
And not by a 36-year-old Republican operative who is by most accounts the apotheosis of vanity and ambition — and who just turned down one of the most powerful roles in any administration, a job that welds you to the president’s side and gives you nearly unrivaled access to his thoughts.
Nick Ayers didn’t see enough upside to the welding. He could do without those thoughts. He said no to becoming Trump’s next chief of staff, and this wasn’t just the latest twist in “As The White House Turns.”
It was, really, the whole story — of a president who burns quickly through whatever good will he has, a president who represents infinitely more peril than promise, a president toward whom a shockingly small and diminishing number of people in Washington feel any real affection, a president more tolerated than respected, though even the tolerance wanes.
.. He’s forever fixated on how wanted he is (“My crowds!” “My ratings!”), but what’s more striking is how unwanted he is. And that’s not merely a function of the crests and dips that every president encounters. It’s not really about popularity at all.
.. It’s about how he behaves — and the predictable harvest of all that nastiness. While other presidents sought to hone the art of persuasion, he revels in his talent for repulsion: how many people he attacks (he styles this as boldness); how many people he offends (he pretties this up as authenticity); how many people he sends into exile.
.. Careerists who would normally pine for top jobs with a president assess his temper, behold his tweets, recall the mortifications of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, and run for the hills. Trump sits at the most coveted desk in the world, but almost no one wants to pull up a chair.
.. What happened with Ayers, who is finishing a stint as Mike Pence’s chief of staff, speaks pointedly to the president’s diminished state. Bear in mind that Trump had already started telling people that Ayers would succeed John Kelly as chief of staff, so Ayers’s decision was doubly humiliating. Bear in mind who Ayers is: not just any political climber but someone whose every breath is focused on his enhanced glory, a trait frequently mentioned by Republicans who have watched his rise (and who sense in him more than a bit of Trump).
They still groan and titter about the blast email that he sent out, unsolicited, after he signed on to manage Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It crowed about all the riches in the private sector that he was passing over. It hinted that his services had been sought by Pawlenty’s competitors: Sorry, guys. It assumed a broad, edge-of-seat audience for the minutiae of his mulling and maneuvering. In fact there were news stories that mockedthe self-aggrandizement of his announcement.
.. At most other times, under most other presidents, someone like Ayers would jump at chief of staff, no matter the job’s infamous rigors. It catapulted such political heavyweights as Dick Cheney, James Baker, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel to greater recognition and relevance.
.. So Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump counted on Ayers’s interest and connived to shove Kelly out — he’ll leave by year’s end — so that they could shimmy Ayers in. They counted wrong. Ever clueless and oh so useless, they didn’t adequately factor in Trump’s toxicity, and the president now looks every bit as isolated as he is.
.. “Trump was left at the altar,”
.. Administration officials like Steven Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney practically put out news releases to make clear that Trump shouldn’t ask them to be chief of staff. He has no Plan B, just B-list options like Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general.
.. As leaders go, he has never been much of a magnet. He unequivocally romped in the Republican primaries, but since then? He got nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did, a gap so remarkable that he had to claim a conspiracy of illegal voting to console himself. When he first filled his cabinet, he hardly had his pick of the litter.
Many top Republicans wanted no part of him. Some who did enter the administration agonized beforehand: Were they helping the country or indulging someone who didn’t deserve it?
When Barbara Bush died in April, it was clear to Trump that he shouldn’t travel to Texas to pay his respects. When John McCain died in August, Trump was told to skip the funeral.
The heads of countries that share America’s purported values (pre-Trump, at least) reproach and recoil from him. Prominent corporate leaders rebuke him, despite his administration’s business-friendly policies.
.. By one analysis of the midterms, the overall vote count for Democratic candidates for the House was 8.6 percentage points higher than for Republican candidates.
His wife takes public shots at him. Old friends tattle to prosecutors; new friends don’t exist. Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.
Mr. Trump has told associates he is unhappy with aspects of how the West Wing is running, complaining that staff morale is low, some aides are disloyal and his press coverage is negative.
Both men who have held the position thus far—Reince Priebus and then Mr. Kelly—found it difficult to manage Mr. Trump and create a White House that sticks to a message and pursues goals in disciplined fashion. Rival power centers have emerged, with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Mr. Kushner, and daughter Ivanka Trump wielding enormous influence and chafing at the chief of staff’s direction. Mr. Priebus would ruefully refer to himself as merely “Chief of Stuff.”
Another challenge is the dearth of qualified individuals willing to take the job. Current and former senior staff members describe the Trump administration as a high-stress, unpredictable atmosphere in which they are subjected to unsparing criticism from inside the building and out.
Top officials often leave their posts with bruised reputations. Several high-level members of the administration have left their jobs in humbling circumstances, with Mr. Trump writing derisively on Twitter about them. Mr. Trump has fired a chief of staff, secretary of state and attorney general on the social media platform.
Aides to Mr. Trump have advised him to hire as chief of staff a former or current lawmaker who knows how to work with Congress, according to one adviser. Among those Mr. Trump is considering is Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), a longtime ally, say people familiar with the matter.
Advisers also have urged Mr. Trump to look for a chief with more political experience than Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, one who will work well with the 2020 re-election campaign. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, said in an interview that Mr. Trump needs a chief of staff “able to add more political experience needed for the next two years.”.. One of Mr. Kelly’s frustrations was that he couldn’t manage a president who insists on following his own instincts rather than working within a hierarchical process that vets and manages the information and people he sees, people close to the White House said... Advisers to Mr. Trump say he should install a chief who, even privately, will talk more positively about the administration. At meetings, Mr. Kelly often took on a negative tone about Mr. Trump’s tweets and the circumstances the White House faced, to the detriment of staff morale, one person familiar with the matter said... A better approach for the next chief of staff would be to let Mr. Trump be himself and focus instead on managing and motivating a staff whose morale has plummeted.. The chief of staff job is difficult job to fill in part because Mr. Trump tends to “grow weary” of anyone in his company for an extended period of time, another person familiar with the matter said.Referring to the next chief of staff, the person said: “I just don’t believe there’s any person who isn’t going to get crushed.”
The uncertainty surrounding the chief-of-staff job reflects a record-setting turnover in the White House’s senior ranks. Whoever succeeds Mr. Kelly will be the third chief of staff in the president’s first two years.
Two of the candidates are Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), a Trump ally, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
White House chief of staff John Kelly told staff on Monday that President Trump had asked him to remain in his post through the 2020 election, White House officials said, a request that comes as tensions between the two men have eased in recent months.
.. Mr. Trump in recent months has consulted with advisers about whom he should tap as his next chief of staff, considering as possible successors Nick Ayers, who serves as chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Mick Mulvaney, who heads the Office of Management and Budget and serves as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If Mr. Kelly stays in his post through 2020, he would be among the longest-serving White House chiefs of staff in U.S. history. Andy Card, chief of staff under former President George W. Bush, remained in his post for a little over five years. The longest serving chief of staff in U.S. history is John Steelman, who spent six years in the post under President Harry Truman.