Posted by Jay Livingston
Trump’s selection of Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff signals some hope. After all, he might have picked the White nationalists’ favorite, Steve Bannon, the Breitbart anti-Semite.Priebus is a more mainstream Republican. Instead Bannon will be chief strategist.
My guess is that in the Trump White House, the chief of staff will be a crucial position. I asked a colleague in the political science department about this. She leafed through a textbook looking of an “org chart,” but couldn’t find one. Here’s my stripped-down version of what it might look like.
The diagram shows the power arrangement, the chain of command. The president tells the chief of staff what he wants, and chief of staff converts these ideas into specific directions for those lower down the line.
But if you think of system as an information network, then the more information a person controls, the more power he has, regardless of the title associated with his position. Here’s another diagram.
With a high-information president who seeks out information from a variety of sources, the chief of staff’s position is not so central, and its power is less. But if a president has little curiosity about facts, the person who controls the facts that he does get is the one who is really calling the shots. My impression is that George W. Bush was that kind of president, though in his case, at least during the first five or six years of his tenure, the central position was not the chief of staff but vice-president. “I’m the decider,” Bush famously said. But if Cheney was giving Bush the options to choose from and the information about those options, Cheney was the most powerful person in the administration.
Our current president-elect does not show much interest in the details of policy. It seems that he is delighted to be the president but that he does not really want to do the work of directing an administration. Given Trump’s meager knowledge of most issues, especially foreign policy, and his impulsiveness, a more centrist party hack like Priebus as chief of staff looks like a good thing, relatively speaking. Trump’s image of his administration will be Diagram A above. The reality will be Diagram B.