Former White House chief of staff, CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta gives some solid advice to new chief of staff John F. Kelly, including this:
There has to be one person in the White House willing to look the president in the eye and tell him the truth — to tell him when he is wrong and when he is about to make a mistake — and that has to be the chief of staff. Staff members, by their nature, are hesitant to challenge the president for fear of offending him. But it is a disservice to the president and the nation not to make him aware of the political and substantive problems he may confront as a result of a particular decision. No president likes to be told he is wrong. However, to be successful, all presidents have to accept the reality that they are not always right.
Panetta’s advice is sound, but it got me thinking about what kind of truths Kelly would need to tell President Trump:
- There was no massive voting fraud in 2016. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 million votes.
- None of the health-care plans put forth by Republicans that you endorsed cover “everybody”; they all resulted in millions fewer insured people. The House bill for which you threw a celebratory Rose Garden gathering cut Medicaid substantially. You promised you wouldn’t do that in the campaign.
- The Russia investigation is not fake news or a hoax. Contrary to your representations, the campaign had multiple contacts with the Russians. Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner all made representations that were not true concerning contacts with Russian officials.
- You involved yourself in creating a fake cover story for the June 2016 meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. Combined with the firing of James B. Comey, the special prosecutor may have a case for obstruction of justice.
- If you fire Robert S. Mueller III, it is quite possible Congress will move to impeach you.
- Russia did interfere with our election and is engaged in widespread cyberattacks and misinformation campaigns against the West. These are facts. Denying them makes you seem like a Russian pawn, or crazy. Congress is not responsible for the state of relations with Russia; Russia is.
- Your approval is really, really low and you are losing some of your core base, including whites with no college degree. As a result of that and failure of health-care reform, Republicans in Congress now ignore you. They will be more likely to send legislation you don’t like and to insist on vigorous investigation of the Russia scandal.
- The vast majority of Americans really want you to stop tweeting. You sound uninformed and unhinged in many of these missives. You’ve diminished the office of the presidency.
- Your son-in-law and daughter are unqualified to be senior advisers. Jared has made some really bad recommendations (like hiring Anthony Scaramucci and firing Comey). They should go back to New York. Honestly, you’d be doing them a favor.
- Stephen Miller is awful on TV. He came across as a bully and someone who does not like immigrants (which may be candid but is nevertheless unacceptable to most Americans). He should not go on TV again.
- You ran as a populist but your agenda on taxes is tilted toward the very rich. You will allow Democrats to take back their white working-class voters if you keep governing like a pro-billionaire right-winger. You should not have so many Goldman Sachs billionaires in the Cabinet. Rich people are not necessarily smart or good at governing.
- The State Department is a hot mess. You need a new secretary of state.
- Trade protectionism is bad for America; NAFTA did not cause us to lose millions of jobs.
- We need immigrants for economic growth. The Cotton-Perdue bill, according to more than a thousand economists, would be a disaster.
- A wall on the southern border is an expensive, unnecessary boondoggle.
You see, without the lies there would be virtually nothing for Trump to say and nothing left of his presidency. If Kelly ever decided to level with Trump, he’d need to tell the president that his behavior is unbecoming and that his “ideas” are daft. And that’s the problem. There’s no way to tell this president the truth and remain in the administration.