But now, the White House needs ballast. It needs more seasoned experts who bring gravitas to the administration at a time when it seems to be teetering. Think about someone such as former solicitor general Ted Olson. Or maybe Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is, until the end of the year, filling the Senate seat of the late John McCain. The point is, we need more experienced people in the government — especially in the White House — in case there is a crisis. A guy such as Olson would be ready and reassuring if we faced a constitutional crisis. Someone such as Kyl, along with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, would have trust and credibility among congressional leaders from both parties. The vice president’s office needs to be prepared for contingencies beyond the ordinary possibilities.
There is precedent for having a senior statesman as a vice president’s chief of staff. From 1981 to 1985, Daniel Murphy served as chief of staff for Vice President George H.W. Bush after having already served a long and accomplished career as a four-star Navy admiral, as deputy director of the CIA and as a deputy undersecretary at the Pentagon. He was serious and everyone knew it.
Given how temperamental President Trump can be, I wonder whether he and those around him would feel threatened by Pence if the vice president were to bring in someone like Murphy — as though recruiting staff with real poise and maturity were somehow disloyal. This is where we are.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is exiting, the markets are in turmoil, and a partial government shutdown is underway. There is uncertainty about trade, friction with our allies, as well as confusion about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Putin is becoming ever more emboldened and malicious. And, in reality, the president has few real allies in Congress. Each of these and other circumstances combine to form the recipe for a crisis. They are not the crisis. The crisis or catastrophe caused by the dysfunction has not happened yet. No one knows what the crisis is going to be. But we are living in perilous times.
For hand-wringers such as me, it feels as though we are vulnerable. Something bad is going to happen. No one staff member can change the existing dynamic, but there is no harm in adding some extra horsepower. The vice president can accommodate the president’s insecurities and help prepare for the worst. Just hoping for the best isn’t what the job requires. We are on notice. Trouble is coming. The vice president would be doing a service by reinforcing his office with an experienced chief of staff, in case something extraordinary happens.