In any presidential administration there’s infighting, jockeying for position, and struggles over the levers of power. How skillfully those tensions, the “palace intrigue” of American politics, are handled is the difference between success and failure.
If those tensions are handled internally, at the staff level, and with deft managerial practices, they become non-stories.
When they are allowed to spill into full public view with sharp elbows flailing in every direction they can have a chilling effect internally, causing paralysis in the daily functions of government.
They can also result in real difficulties in staffing the administration with the brightest and best, as folks on the outside become reluctant to be part of dysfunction.
As Morton Blackwell has often observed, “Personnel is policy,” which means that the prospect of the best people for a job looking away is troubling for any administration.
To advance an agenda requires the most talented people working in as close to harmony as possible. It may not always be possible to get eagles to fly in formation, but they can be kept from attacking each other.
Last week, President Donald Trump addressed the Boy Scouts of America. Borrowing from the Boy Scout Law, the president intoned, “As the Scout Law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal — we could sure use some loyalty, I will tell you that…”
It’s not coincidence that the first two laws for the Boy Scouts are trustworthiness and loyalty.
Trust and loyalty are inextricably linked. They are vital to any healthy relationship. They are especially vital in the bruising business of government and politics.
When members of any team are honest with and loyal to each other the team wins. Knowing that others will look out for you just as you look out for them is essential to the cohesiveness necessary to effectively govern.
Loyalty is too rare and trust too easy to lose. Both require daily commitment. Merely mouthing the words isn’t sufficient. Actions speak much louder.
Conspicuous by his absence at the Boy Scout Jamboree was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself an Eagle Scout.
For days, Trump had been taking public shots at the Attorney General in his tweets, leaving many to wonder why he was marginalizing and publicly humiliating a man who was his first supporter in the Senate, a key ally, and advisor throughout the campaign, and one of his staunchest defenders.
Sessions was and is a true believer in both Trump and the Trump agenda. He championed hard-line policies on immigration and trade long before Donald Trump rode them to victory last year.
Moreover, he’s a solid conservative who has earned the loyalty and trust of the conservative base that is both vital to Trump and restless over his actions.
There’s wide speculation that the president wants to push Sessions into resigning. That doesn’t appear likely to happen. Sessions has made it pretty clear that he intends to stay. The only thing that would cause him to leave is if he was actually fired.
Firing Sessions would be the worst possible move for Trump. “If Jeff Sessions is fired there will be holy hell to pay,” warned Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., earlier this week.
The media’s reaction to a Trump firing would be only a part of the equation. Coupled with the Washington, D.C., establishment there would be a firestorm that might rival hell’s.
The larger problem for Trump wouldn’t be the fires of the media or the Establishment.
His bigger problem would be the fury from the conservative base, which is already increasingly vocal in its criticism of Trump’s approach to Sessions. Sessions has been loyal to conservatives and their agenda. They will be fiercely loyal to him.
The treatment of Sessions is unprecedented. It’s not simply because Twitter is now available to make caustic comments about his service to our country.
Other high-ranking officials in previous administrations have been fired or simply left with empty portfolios. The tack taken with Sessions is far beyond that.
Loyalty is, of course, a two way street. In the case of a presidential administration it’s not only the personal loyalty to the president, which is required of any good administration, but also the reciprocation of that loyalty. It’s also loyalty to the Constitution, to which the oath of office is sworn, and the rule of law.
What is getting lost in the internal squabbling is the president’s own agenda. The American people want a replacement for Obamacare, tax relief and reform, and safer and more reliable roads and bridges. None of those lofty goals has been achieved yet.
In any administration, the departments of Justice and State are at the top of the “here’s where things get done” list. The upheaval surrounding Jeff Sessions has potentially devastating implications for the Trump Administration’s ability to move its policy agenda and get things done.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not been pleased with the internal machinations of the administration, either.
He’s another Eagle Scout.
Charlie Gerow is a political analyst for Harrisburg, Pa.'s CBS affiliate, appearing weekly on its Sunday morning show, "Face the State," which is syndicated statewide. He serves as the first vice chair on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union. He is the CEO of Quantum Communications, a strategic communications and issue advocacy firm. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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