The White House Chief of Staff is one of the most powerful jobs in a presidential administration. According to Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Staff Chiefs Define Every Presidents,” the responsibility of the Chief of Staff is both leading and advisory and may include the following tasks “:
- Select key staff in the White House and monitor them;
- Structure the staff system in the White House;
- Control the flow of people to the Oval Office;
- Manage the flow of information;
- Protect the interests of the President;
- Negotiate with Congress, other members of the executive branch and political groups outside the government to implement the president̵
- Advise the president on various issues, including telling the president what they do not want to hear.
One can expect that such a job requires someone with leadership experience and knowledge of government functions as well as the confidence of the president and other powerful political actors. It is obviously a tough and demanding position.
President Trump has gone through almost as many chiefs of staff in three and a half years as Barack Obama did in two terms. His first was former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was so far over his head that he did not do so for the first six months. He was replaced by retired General John Kelly, who was first named Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security. The hope was that a skilled leader with experience in the management could introduce discipline and tame the intrigue of the palace, but in the end Kelly found that Trump was uncontrollable and everything else flowed from it so that he was also out.
Then came the former Tea Party congressman from South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney, who was also acting head of the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (Several meetings, often of people serving only in an “acting” capacity, are a hallmark of the Trump administration.) In the spring, with the coronavirus pandemic raging in the Northeast, Trump also lost faith in Mulvaney and was “relocated.” to his job as Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, his replacement was another Republican congressman, former leader of the Freedom Caucus Mark Meadows in North Carolina.As shocking as it may be, he seems to be the worst yet.
Meadows entered Congress in 2012, two years after Mulvaney, and both were part of the tea party excitement. But while Mulvaney has an impressive resume from Georgetown and the University of North Carolina, practiced law for many years and held government offices in South Carolina before running for Congress, Meadows was pretty much a cipher before being elected.
In 2018, Meadows was revealed to have exaggerated his college career – he only received an AA degree rather than a BA, as he claimed. He ran a restaurant in North Carolina for a while and has owned real estate development companies in both Florida and North Carolina. His previous political experience came as a Republican chairman and as a member of the North Carolina Economic Development Committee. That was pretty much until he went to Congress eight years ago.
He won the first race in a recently gerrymandered district with little trouble, as he had an R after his name. Ducks burst into the congress carrying the Tea Party banner and began making waves almost immediately. Like the rest of his class, who believed they had a mandate to do everything humanly possible to thwart the Obama administration’s agenda, he became the leader of the right-wing faction that later became Freedom Caucus.
After serving only eight months, Meadows made a name for himself as the author of a letter demanding that the Republican House majority zero all funding for Obamacare in must-pass spending and threatened to shut down the government otherwise. He got 79 of his colleagues to sign the letter and it pressured the then President John Boehner to hold a vote on it, which Boehner did not want to do in the middle of already sensitive budget negotiations. Meadows was not a team player:
“This type of vote could potentially hurt our long-term goals. I understand that,” he said. But he said that was not his concern. “My job first is to make sure I represent the people at home,” Meadows said. “I do not think that when I come here people expect me to look at the political consequences. It is for someone else to focus on.” For him, getting rid of Obamacare is the number one priority. “[T]”Ignoring it would be ignoring our duty to represent the people at home,” he said.
He said his electors wanted him to fight Obamacare “regardless of the consequences.” The gambit was just the first of many more attempts to ditch the Affordable Care Act, shut down the government, destroy US credit ratings and otherwise cause vague damage to the country.
Meadows was 100% a creation of the Tea Party at the height of its power. Activists in the movement interviewed him, got him and elected him. His comments above reflected the movement’s simplistic arrogance, which represented the final, steep decline of what had once been a functioning political party.
In 2015, Meadows was a major power in the House Freedom Caucus – essentially a creation or launch of the Tea Party movement – which successfully ousted Boehner for not delivering enough of the Tea Party agenda. He soon became a big tower in the side of Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, for exactly the same reason.
So it was a little surprising to see Meadows embrace Donald Trump wholeheartedly in 2016, even joining him on stage and leading the audience in exuberant singing of “Lock her up!” songs. Whatever Trump may be, he’s not much of a Tea Party. But Meadows made it clear from the start that he sees his job as giving his right-wing voters exactly what they want, no matter what, and they wanted Trump. It did not take long before he supported the main challenges of independent GOP representatives who failed to show sufficient credibility to the president.
In 2019, Meadows was so deeply attached to Trump that he announced that he would not run for re-election and made it known that he would love to be his chief of staff. A few months later, the award was his, and according to this report from the Washington Post, he has – surprisingly – not only failed to stop the chaos of the White House but amplified the president’s worst instincts. Meadows reduces everything to party politics, is openly contemptuous of scientists, doctors and other experts and eggs on Trump to play hairball no matter what, in the midst of the pandemic crisis and the economic catastrophe that followed.
In other words, just as he blindly made the Tea Party’s bid without regard to the consequences, Meadows is now channeling his new leader, with the same disastrous results for his party and the country. It’s ironic that the man who founded a group often called the “Caucus of No” has proven to be the perfect yes man – the last thing America needs in Donald Trump’s White House.