3 pieces of advice for running the White House
Former Chiefs of Staff Mack McLarty and Andrew Card -- members of the Miller Center's First Year Project Advisory Council -- offer advice to the Trump White House
This article is excerpted from the Dallas Morning News
The early days of any presidential administration are tumultuous. Still, with the failure of the Trump administration's health care repeal effort and the subsequent appointment of a new White House chief of staff, it is fair to say this administration has been more tumultuous than any in recent history.
Yet while this administration's circumstances are unique, every administration faces a set of common challenges in its first months. As former chiefs of staff during the first year of new administrations (one of us to President Bill Clinton, the other to President George W. Bush), we have seen and confronted these challenges firsthand. And while every chief of staff must tackle problems in his or her own way, as Gen. John Kelly certainly will, we believe our experience reveals some steps any White House — and any newly minted chief of staff — should take to lay a solid foundation for the future.
The first challenge for any new administration is deceptively difficult. The president's team must be carefully chosen and then integrated into a federal government that dwarfs any campaign in size and scope. It is not just the White House senior staff that must be selected with great care. Top officials throughout the Cabinet must have their nominations sent to the Senate for confirmation. Thousands of qualified political appointees must be slotted into positions throughout government in order to implement the vision of the president and his team. Along with its well-publicized staff changes at the highest levels, the current administration faces an unprecedented number of vacancies in key roles. The sooner these are filled, the more stable the administration, and the country, will be.
While fully staffing an administration is necessary, however, it is hardly sufficient. A new presidential administration must establish a White House culture of shared purpose if it is to be successful. Some amount of internal politicking is unavoidable, of course, given the stakes and stresses of White House jobs. But if left unchecked, internal squabbles can consume a presidency. The solution for senior White House staff is not to ignore infighting, or worse, to participate in it.
Rather than becoming preoccupied by internal challenges, administrations must learn to shift the focus to external ones. The presidents we served had different ideas about which policies would best serve the country at the time. (For Clinton, it was the Bosnian peace accords and a balanced budget; for Bush, it was tax relief and national security.) Both presidents picked a set of top priorities and stuck to it. These clearly defined goals helped lead to early policy victories on signature legislation. These victories, in turn, built credibility and set the stage for significant achievements later on.
Of course, legislative setbacks are inevitable. The failure of the latest attempt at health care repeal is not the first time a White House has had to learn from its mistakes. But to move past early hurdles, the president's team must redouble its efforts to rally around a shared strategy that can improve Americans' lives, be successfully implemented, and earn at least some measure of broad popular support.