Does President Trump need political babysitting?

According to AP report Secretary James Mattis and now a new Chief of Staff John Kelly agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House. If true it pretty much sounds as a political babysitting. Can this somehow work in the long term? Do you think it is the (only) way how to, let’s say, to safe Trump from himself? Read few comments.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. Credit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/

Russell Riley, Associate Professor and Co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, University of Virginia

I cannot vouch, of course, for the veracity of the reporting, but the core of it sounds entirely plausible to me.  I do think that the generals in particular are highly attentive to making sure that this volatile president does not do something catastrophic on a whim.  Mr. Trump’s tendencies are unmistakable and amply proven even after his rise to the presidency, when some (including me) thought that the weight of the responsibilities and the institution would make him a more sober and responsible person as president.  On the evidence that has not happened.

I would offer one modest amendment to your characterization—I’m not sure this constitutes POLITICAL babysitting, although there is a bit of that.  I think of it more as SECURITY babysitting.  I doubt they are paying much attention to his flatulent Tweets about politics—but they are surely extraordinary attentive to anything that might complicate American security interests across the world.  Here they clearly want to avoid the trouble that might be caused by an unwise executive tantrum.

There is, I think, precedent for this.  General Alexander Haig felt similar responsibilities during the final days of the Nixon White House, when there was a fear that Nixon might do something intemperate abroad to deflect attention from his troubles at home.  There is a widely reported account—which some people think incorrect—that Haig actually quietly asked to have any prospective presidential orders to the nuclear command ignored absent his own affirmation.  That may not be entirely true, but the general point is sound—Haig worried about Nixon and sought to make sure he didn’t do something stupid for political reasons.  Same here.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, Professor and Chair of Political Science, University of North Texas

I am not sure of the history behind this, but it wouldn’t surprise me that other administrations have also had a similar arrangement, especially in the post 911 era of national security.  It certainly makes sense from a practical point of view to have one of the DOD and DHS secretaries in the country at a time.  Of course, presidents have relied on their national security advisors for advice, perhaps even more so than DOD or DHS, and so this could be those departments trying to protect their political power and influence.  It does appear, from the AP article, that this agreement is a function of early stumbles of Trump Admin, that there was poor communication, individuals (including Mattis and Kelly) were not consulted on the travel ban.  But just because you are in the country does not mean you are going to be consulted!

Obviously, this appears to be a bigger deal given the chaos of the Trump administration.  But Trump has a way of ignoring his cabinet, whether they are physically abroad or at home.  And it is not entirely clear whether this is a big deal unless we compare this administration to practices of prior administrations.

Robert BusbySenior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

With respect to the appointment of John Kelly it is a good and much needed change in the location of authority in the White House. Without a central figure to coordinate the activity of others in the White House there appeared to be a range of different individuals with different mandates, competing to be the person who spoke for Trump of commanded his attention and trust. This is not to say that Trump had lost authority in the administration or had acted in a manner that was unbecoming of his position. Rather it is to suggest that a sense of hierarchy now gives a greater sense of the passage of power from staffers to the President and potentially from the President to the White House staff. How long this may hold is open to question given the fluid nature of the Trump White House and the potential for friction between Trump and Kelly. The idea of the gatekeeper at the door of the Oval Office is not new. Richard Nixon had two aides, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who acted as a barrier between the President and his staff, and were given the nicknames of the ‘Berlin Wall’ on account of their Germanic names. In 1994 Bill Clinton made Leon Panetta Chief of Staff to give a greater sense of order in the White House. This appointment lasted 3 years, worked well in giving the President assistance in providing political stability and perhaps serves as a good template for Kelly to observe in giving a strong political structure in the key executive institution.

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