You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose.
That is what Governor Mario Cuomo once said about success as an elected official. In other words, dream big when you are trying to be elected; get real when you have the job. Donald Trump — who knew and supported Cuomo — certainly promised big things during his rallies but as President he has shown little flair or interest for governance.
It’s time for a coaching intervention, but first let’s sketch out what’s been happening.
Trump’s White House is one of factions from hard right nationalists (Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller) to more orthodox Republicans (Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus). Trump has given different briefs to different people with little coordination. As a result his administration is in disarray so much so that Trump has delegated son-in-law Jared Kushner to be – as some pundits have opined – “secretary of everything” – foreign policy, criminal justice, and governmental operations.
How long this will last is anyone’s guess. Already one chief aide has been fired (Michael Flynn) and another (Katie Walsh) opted out. What the president must do – as every leader must – is lay out a vision and then work toward it. Such discipline is something averse to Trump’s managerial instincts. He is comfortable running strings of businesses over which he has final say. But what works for real estate and licensing does not work in government.
His administration is essentially micromanaging huge chunks of government, notably the State Department and Department of Defense, because the respective secretaries Rex Tillerson and Mike Mattis have been unable to install deputies. At State none have been nominated; at DOD the White House will not sign off on potential candidates who opposed Trump in the campaign. It’s the “team of rivals” turned on its head; loyalty trumps competence.
Chaos is the order of the day, echoing what Jeb Bush predicted how Trump would seek to govern. Well, as Trump’s string of missteps have shown, chaos is winning and his agenda – and by extension – the American people are losing. All is not lost, however. Presidencies (Reagan and Clinton’s) have gotten off on the wrong foot and righted the ship.
“Making America Great Again” worked as a slogan but what does it mean? Building the Wall? Restricting free trade? Gutting environmental regulations? Repealing the ACA? Trump’s sloganeering is open to interpretation. To Trump’s credit his executive orders are fulfilling campaign promises, but these are acts of the pen, not acts that require the cooperation of others. Trump’s first foray into legislative politics was a disaster; his support for the Republican health care bill mattered little and Speaker Ryan pulled the bill for lack of support.
What is required is an articulation of the vision and attention to detail so if I may let me offer a little management coaching.
Crack the whip. Chaos makes for good fiction but it creates pitfalls in management. When people do not know what’s expected of them, nor even to whom they are reporting, they cannot be expected to deliver results. Insist that senior aides set forth clear directives and hold them accountable for bringing them to fruition. Failure to do so will mean dismissal.
Stay positive. Asking Mr. Trump get off Twitter is futile. He gets his juices from it. The challenge is to be positive. He must stop the juvenile ad hominem attacks on anyone and everyone Trump dislikes. Trump must act like the president he was elected to be. Advice: Be a role model for your grand kids instead of a poster boy for cyber bullying.
Get one over the goal line. The White House needs a win. David Brooks of the New York Times suggests doing something to alleviate the opioid addiction. This is something to which all politicians can subscribe. Trump campaigned on the “us vs. them.” Seeking to solve a problem that affects millions could win him support that would enable him to work in a more bipartisan fashion on future issues.
These coaching suggestions are nothing more than management 101, the kinds of things Mr. Trump no doubt learned during his two years at Wharton. The challenge now is for him to turn the promises of his campaign into a reality that benefits the nation.