On Saturday, President Trump once again preempted his own administration, announcing—off the cuff, apparently—that his chief of staff, John Kelly, would be leaving by year’s end. The move wasn’t that much of a surprise: The two men had reportedly clashed in recent months, and you’ve got to imagine Kelly was tired of babysitting a petulant toddler whom he repeatedly called an “idiot.”

One problem: Trump didn’t have a replacement lined up. He thought he did, in Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff. But Trump, being Trump, hadn’t actually confirmed that, and it turned out Ayers would rather go home to Georgia. Other high-ranking officials—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, budget director Mick Mulvaney, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer—are similarly disinterested, for reasons that should be obvious to even the most casual observer. So now Trump is casting about for someone, anyone, willing to do the impossible job of bringing order to the West Wing’s perpetual shitshow amid the Mueller investigation’s climax and the forthcoming re-election campaign. 

Enter U.S. Representative Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, the only soul brave/dumb enough to openly lobby for the worst gig in Washington.

Technically, Meadows had his friends lobby for him, then his office denied that he was campaigning, then he issued a statement saying, “Serving as Chief of Staff would be an incredible honor.” It’s not exactly hard to parse those tea leaves—like Trump, Meadows appears to have a knack for transparent bullshitting, so maybe it’ll be a good match. 

Meadows would also offer a practical advantage: About to enter his fourth term, he knows how Congress—and congressional oversight—works, something that can’t be said for most of what passes for the president’s brain trust. With a barrage of subpoenas headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the second Democrats take power, that could prove useful. 

Another sign suggesting Trump might swipe right on Meadows: Like any good narcissist, the president appreciates a good kissass, and Meadows, the far-right Freedom Caucus leader and the most MAGA congressman in the Old North State, fits that bill nicely. Better still, he’s not shy about going on cable news to trash the media and sing the president’s praises, and, boy howdy, does Trump love both cable news and reflexive loyalists. 

As Politico reported in July: “There’s a reason Donald Trump loves Meadows and [fellow Freedom Caucus leader Jim] Jordan and it all comes down to one word: loyalty. The principals of the group of three-dozen hardliners have also become the ringleaders of an unofficial Trump alliance on Capitol Hill, the front line in Trump’s war against his many foes.”

Indeed, Meadows didn’t blink after the Access Hollywood “grab ’em by the pussy” tape was released, even as other Republicans wrung their hands and feigned interest in throwing Trump overboard. More recently, he’s been one of Trump’s foremost lackeys on the Russia investigation, seeking at one point to impeach deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

Meadows is pretty much hated by the “establishment” elements of the Republican Party, as the Freedom Caucus’s hard-nosed tactics and uncompromising rhetoric have embarrassed party leaders and stymied legislation Meadows deemed insufficiently reactionary. (In a Vanity Fair interview, former Speaker John Boehner, whom Meadows once tried to oust, said of him: “He’s an idiot. I can’t tell you what makes him tick.”) But for Trump, this might not be an altogether bad thing. The president, according to Politico, views Meadows as “a bellwether of the heart of his base,” and the congressman has his ear. After Meadows objected to an immigration deal Trump was forging with Democratic leaders last year, Trump dropped it. Meadows and Jordan also encouraged Trump to veto a spending compromise congressional leaders had crafted to keep the government open; Trump very nearly did so before he was talked out of it.  

This offers a window into what a Trump presidency might be like with Meadows at the helm: unfettered and eager to brawl, playing to the base, refusing to compromise, ratcheting up bombastic rhetoric on immigration and other divisive cultural issues, defying congressional Democrats and waging open war against Robert Mueller. If John Kelly saw his job as reining in Trump’s worst impulses, Meadows would be the devil of his shoulder, encouraging the president to double down on his instincts. 

While that approach would make it difficult for Trump to win back the white suburban women who abandoned him in the midterms, it would also charge up his most ardent supporters, the ones who cheer him at his campaign rallies, the ones who would back him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, the ones who feed Trump’s relentless ego. In other words, following Meadows’s advice would probably be politically disastrous, but Trump would love the hell out of it. 

For what it’s worth, Trump insists that Meadows isn’t the only candidate out there—he has lots of interested applicants, honest.  

Fake News has it purposely wrong. Many, over ten, are vying for and wanting the White House Chief of Staff position. Why wouldn’t someone want one of the truly great and meaningful jobs in Washington. Please report news correctly. Thank you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2018

Judging by the names being bandied about, however, Meadows might not have what you’d call stiff competition.

The prospective candidates include former New Jersey governor Chris “Bridgegate” Christie, who ended his term with approval ratings in the teens (!), and former Pennsylvania senator Rick “Santorum” Santorum, whose homophobic idiocy made him a national laughingstock before he was stomped in 2006. (Editor’s note: Soon after this post was published, Santorum withdrew from consideration. Oh well.) Not exactly the cream of the crop. There’s also the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, who promoted a company even after he knew it had been defrauding people; David Bossie, a Trump campaign official and Corey Lewandowski buddy who made a career out of hounding the Clintons; and David Urban, a Republican lobbyist from Philadelphia (and Arlen Specter’s former chief of staff) I happened to profile several years ago, who, honestly, wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario. 

If Trump does tap Meadows, Governor Cooper could call a special election ahead of 2020—or he could not do that and keep the seat vacant. Right now, the Eleventh Congressional District is the most Republican in the state. But a federal court has ruled that the state’s congressional districts are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders; if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees—or if it doesn’t, but state courts rule that the gerrymanders violate the North Carolina Constitution, as seems plausible—they’ll need to be redrawn. Depending on how that plays out, a Republican victory there in 2020 might not be a sure thing. Meadows would face a tough campaign in a purpler district, which might mean he’s thinking about an exit strategy. 

Besides, his Freedom Caucus will soon be rendered impotent by the Democratic takeover, so there’s not that much to lose. 

But the promotion wouldn’t come without risk for Meadows. While he’d become one of the biggest players in D.C., he’d also be Trump’s third chief of staff in less than two years, an indication that this White House isn’t exactly a well-oiled machine or a pinnacle of stability. And even if he manages not to get shivved by the MAGA sociopaths clawing for power in that viper’s nest, he’d still be working for a president polling in the low forties with congressional investigators and prosecutors breathing down his neck and the specter of an economic downturn on the horizon. 

Which is to say: Things could get really ugly in year three of the Trump presidency, and the stink might never wash off anyone associated with it. 

Which is also to say: Mark Meadows might be the perfect captain for the sinking S.S. Trump. They deserve each other.  

2 replies on “Nobody Wants to Be Trump’s Chief of Staff … Except North Carolina’s Most MAGA Congressman”

  1. Hahahahahahahaha, we won, we are still winning, and you all are still crying…2 years later…AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

  2. “Loose lips sink ships” was a sage bit of WW2 cautionary wisdom….

    TrumpCo (or, ‘The Administration’ as they try to paint it) is discovering the truth in this saying, and it is now melding with yet another oldie-but-a-goody to form what could be the epitaph of Trump`s presidency :

    Loose Lips Sink Ships Of State And Rats Do NOT Jump On Board Sinking Ships.

    That Trump is flailing about, trying to get someone else to drink the Cool-Aid , but coming up empty is no surprise. The revolving door at The White House has not stopped spinning since Trump sat his rump in The Oval Office, and if you stop to consider the realities of dealing with Donald Trump`s drama queen style of being “so presidential”, you find yourself asking;

    ‘Hell…Why would anyone WANT to be his Chief of Staff?’

    One of my earliest jobs was washing dishes at a steak house on Friday & Saturday nights, and that amounted to less repetitive and constant cleaning of someone else`s mess than being a TrumpCo Chief of Staff amounts to.
    Personally, I think that Trump wants to hand the task over to Jared Kushner, his All-Purpose Alternative, that Swiss-Army Knife Son-In-Law who–seemingly–is now doing about 60% of The Important Stuff for Trump (such as shmoozing Saudi despots to pave the way for future TrumpCo enterprises after this tiresome ‘President of the United States’ scam goes the way of Trump University). Jared, after all, is absolutely loyal to Trump –guaranteed by Most Trusted Advisor Daughter Ivanka, a.k.a. She Who Can Do No Wrong (Secret Service Code Name: Barbie–are you surprised?).

    If Cloning were allowed, The Trump Administration would be a veritable Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Jareds and Ivankas.

    So Cheer Up ! As unsettling as the prospect of Mark Meadows may be; things can indeed, still get worse.

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