Donald Trump announced on Saturday that current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will resign at the end of the year. So far, the search for anyone willing to manage a chaotic White House and a goonish, know-nothing president is not going well.
NEW: A source close to Mulvaney tells me he is no longer interested in COS job, Mnuchin and Lighthizer sending out same signals…. list of potential replacements for Kelly shrinking by the hour.
— Nancy Cook (@nancook) December 10, 2018
One of the problems one encounters when trying to fill a job that no sensible person would take is that one is eventually forced to consider some completely nonsensical candidates. This explains how we got to the point where Trump “has asked confidants what they think about the idea of installing Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, as John Kelly’s permanent replacement,” according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.
The Freedom Caucus is a group of hardline Republican members of Congress famous for sabotaging legislative negotiations with inflexible demands. In 2013, Meadows drafted and organized a letter signed by 79 Republican lawmakers which called upon then-Speaker John Boehner to “affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor” — a stance which guaranteed a government shutdown because President Obama would never sign such a bill.
As the Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe noted, “by the time the shutdown began in October, Meadows had been labeled a chief architect of the strategy.”
The danger of Meadows ending up as the White House Chief of Staff stems mainly from the fact that Donald Trump is neither especially bright nor especially interested in his job. Trump spends hours on something the White House defines as “executive time,” a euphemistic term for “the unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends and watching television.” The best way to convince Trump to do something is to be the last person to talk to him before he has to make a decision.
Meanwhile, the chief of staff’s job is to be the gatekeeper to the president. An effective chief of staff could determine who Trump speaks with last on an entire range of issues.
Even without one of the architects of the 2013 shutdown at his side, Trump constantly threatens government shutdowns. As an arresting Washington Post headline noted last September, “Trump has threatened to shut down the government at least seven times in the past six weeks.” In the past, someone has talked him out of it. With Meadows as his top aide, an extended shutdown becomes much more likely.
There’s an ethical dilemma all reporters — and certainly reporters from left-leaning sites like ThinkProgress — face whenever we criticize a potential action by the Trump White House. Every time someone on the left warns that the professional troll in the White House should not do something, we risk nudging him to do just that in order to “own the libs.”
So let’s close with a very practical reason why Trump should not want Meadows as his chief of staff if he has any desire to be reelected.
The price of government shutdowns is high. According to S&P Global’s economists, “a shutdown would trim at least 0.2% points, or $6.5 billion, from real GDP growth for each week a shutdown lasts.” The same economic team estimates that the brief 2013 shutdown — which lasted from October 1 until October 17 of that year, “cost the US economy $24bn” and shaved “0.6% off of economic growth” in the quarter it took place.
A Chief of Staff Meadows is a recipe for an extended shutdown. And that, in turn, is a recipe for a recession in an election year. If Donald Trump wants to run for reelection in the midst of a recession that he single-handedly created, he runs the risk of leaving the White House forever in 2021.