Com­ing up on the out­side

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett

Score a big one for Pres­i­dent Trump on the day he turned over his White House staff to a fourstar Marine gen­eral and dumped af­ter a week the vul­gar brag­gart, An­thony Scara­mucci, as his com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

Credit Trump with ac­cept­ing, ap­par­ently, what an id­iot he’d been a week be­fore in hir­ing the clown Scara­mucci, if not on another half-dozen counts.

Ei­ther Trump is newly mak­ing a mea­sure of tra­di­tional sense, or my thresh­old for con­ven­tional wis­dom has been low­ered by six months of his non­sense.

What no one can pre­dict is whether Mon­day’s piv­otal mo­ment por­tends more or­der, mean­ing some, or height­ened mad­ness. Or both. It could well por­tend both more White House staff or­der and more per­sonal pres­i­den­tial mad­ness.

What makes tra­di­tional sense is Trump’s re­plac­ing the Repub­li­can Party in­sider, Reince Priebus, as chief of staff with re­tired Marine Gen. John Kelly, a re­spected dis­ci­plinar­ian and taskmas­ter trained and ex­pe­ri­enced in chain of com­mand, but not tra­di­tional pol­i­tics.

Trump’s first or­der of busi­ness was to get Oba­macare re­pealed. He ap­par­ently was per­suaded that the Repub­li­can Congress could be counted on to get that sim­ple prom­ise kept un­der the lead­er­ship of Paul Ryan and Mitch McCon­nell, both close to Priebus, re­cent na­tional GOP chair­man.

Trump, bored by the health is­sue’s pol­icy minu­tiae, brought in Priebus pri­mar­ily to get health care done through tra­di­tional Repub­li­can meth­ods.

It was much like what Gov. Asa Hutchin­son did at the out­set of his gov­er­nor­ship. He faced the daunt­ing chal­lenge of try­ing to get the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity of the Leg­is­la­ture to save Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion. For that task, he in­stalled as his chief of staff the out­go­ing pres­i­dent pro tem­pore of the state Se­nate, Michael Lamoureux, to work with Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors in much the way he’d worked with Repub­li­can sen­a­tors as their leader.

The dif­fer­ence: Hutchin­son and Lamoureux pre­vailed; Trump’s del­e­ga­tion to Priebus … you see how that turned out.

As soon as suc­cess was achieved in Arkansas, Lamoureux took off for Wash­ing­ton to be­come a lob­by­ist seek­ing to cash in on his close friend­ship with Tom Cot­ton. Hutchin­son brought in an aide from his Wash­ing­ton days, Ali­son Wil­liams, to be­come his chief of staff func­tion­ing more in an ad­min­is­tra­tive than leg­isla­tive lob­by­ing role.

When ig­no­min­ious fail­ure on health care be­set Trump last week, he dumped the in­sider and blun­derer to whom he had del­e­gated the mat­ter. He sig­naled by the gen­eral’s se­lec­tion that he wanted stricter staff lead­er­ship. He also in­di­cated he would rely per­son­ally hence­forth on the self­styled un­pre­dictable in­de­pen­dence of the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment by which he had made fools of that es­tab­lish­ment in the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary.

A more con­strained staff and an even less con­strained pres­i­dent, if pos­si­ble—that’s kind of what it looks like.

Where does all this leave those two other free­lancers and power cen­ters, Steve Ban­non and Jared Kush­ner?

They were in lead­ing and com­bat­ive roles an eter­nity ago in Trump Time, mean­ing June. Will they be brought to heel by the gen­eral? Or will they pro­ceed with their own agen­das—Ban­non to de­stroy the “deep state” and Kush­ner to solve the Mid­dle East?

Who knows? And, at the mo­ment, who much cares? Keep­ing up with West Wing an­gling and machi­na­tion is like watch­ing a 20-horse run­ning of the Ken­tucky Derby. You can’t fo­cus on the en­tire field. You can fo­cus only for the mo­ment on the lead horses or those run­ning for your money.

At present, the gen­eral is the horse to watch. That’s not to say Ban­non and Kush­ner couldn’t come on in the stretch. But we’re only round­ing the first turn.

And there re­mains Kellyanne Con­way, an early bet­ting fa­vorite. She stum­bled out of the gate and has fallen back in the field.

Fi­nally, two part­ing thoughts: First, our lo­cal celebrity, press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, may have been given a pow­er­ful re­prieve.

For a few hours, it ap­peared she was sup­posed to work in the in­tense me­dia glare both for “the Mooch” and the gen­eral, not to men­tion the mega­lo­ma­niac who mon­i­tors her daily pro­pa­gan­diz­ing for its ag­gran­dize­ment of him. That seemed rather clearly to pro­vide yet more rea­son for her to fol­low my ad­vice Sun­day to get out now and come home.

Now it ap­pears she will work for only one taskmas­ter, the gen­eral, and one ego­ma­niac, the pres­i­dent, and not a sec­ond free­lanc­ing ego­ma­niac.

Her job has gone from to­tally im­pos­si­ble to prob­a­bly im­pos­si­ble, more be­cause of the ego­ma­niac than the taskmas­ter.

Sec­ond, Mack McLarty told me once when he was chief of staff to Bill Clin­ton, also fa­mously undis­ci­plined, that he hadn’t ap­pre­ci­ated that his job was to man­age down, mean­ing the staff, and up, mean­ing the pres­i­dent.

Kelly will soon find that out. Gen­er­als don’t man­age up; it vi­o­lates the chain of com­mand. But pol­i­tics is dif­fer­ent, and Trump more dif­fer­ent still.

John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

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