EDITORIAL: Turnovers a sign of White House woes

York Dispatch Editorial Board

A certain amount of turnover is to be expected in any institution, and presidential administrations are no exception.

But the sheer volume of changing faces at the White House — coupled the ham-handedness with which departures are routinely handled, the frequent lack of planning for succession and the ill-treatment of past (not to mention current) staffers — are all reflections of a governmental body that, despite protestations from President Donald Trump, is anything but a well-oiled machine.

The on-again off-again departure of Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly is but the latest example.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, was billed as “the adult in the room” who would bring order to an erratic Oval Office when he arrived in July 2017. Fat chance. Like everyone else who has attempted to calm the roiling waters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he swung and missed.

Add his missteps on issues including support of the administration’s egregious family-separation policy, defense of a presidential aide who was accused by two ex-wives of spousal abuse, and frequent clashes with Trump and other top officials, and it is not surprising that Kelly’s departure has been rumored widely and frequently.

Chief of staff John Kelly, right, holds the door for President Donald Trump during an event on illegal immigration and border security in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. Trump said Saturday that Kelly will leave his position at the end of the year. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

And he was all set to announce it — on Monday. But Trump, publicity-hungry as always, blurted the news to reporters on Saturday. Even worse: Kelly’s expected successor, Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, announced Sunday that, thanks but no thanks, he’s not only not interested in the job, he’s leaving the administration.

That’s the White House in a nutshell: No coordination, no due diligence, no plans for succession or messaging, no idea what they’ll do next. The result: Kelly — disgruntled, diminished and disagreeing constantly with Trump — has agreed to stay on for the time being.

It’s bad enough that one of the plum roles at the center of the political universe — chief of staff to the president of the United States — is going wanting, it’s even more disconcerting that it is one of several vital positions that have seen or will see new stewardship going forward.

There will be a new attorney general, for example. Trump has nominated William Barr to return to the post he filled under President George H.W. Bush. But again, the president was so eager to jettison long-beleaguered AG Jeff Sessions that the office is currently in the interim hands of the laughably unqualified Matthew Whitaker — another example of the diminished candidate pool from which this administration operates.

Other offices undergoing or expecting turnover are Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Homeland Security, Deputy National Security Adviser, and EPA Administrator.

All of which is the continuation of a troubling trend. Trump has lost nine Cabinet members in less than two years, often unceremoniously (i.e., scandal-plagued Health and Human Services’ Tom Price and the EPA’s Scott Pruitt). The administration has said goodbye to advisors (Steve Bannon), lawyers (Don McGahn), communications officers (Sean Spicer), national security advisors (Michael Flynn), inexplicable hires (Anthony Scaramucci), former GOP loyalists (Reince Priebus) and titans of industry (Rex Tillerson). None lasted two years.

All told, the departure rate 23 months in is, depending on how top officials are defined, anywhere from 62 percent to 73 percent.

That costs are many: Lack of stability, loss of momentum, frequent change of direction and inconsistent policy planning, to name a few — not to mention broader workplace strains like lowered morale, burnout and lost productivity.

Of greater concern, however, is that the constant turnover — and the way it’s frequently mismanaged — reflect the dysfunctional workings of the White House as a whole.

Our center of government is disorganized, undisciplined and dismissive of current, former and potential employees. Hiring is haphazard, top advisors are often disparaged or undermined, and dismissals come summarily and amid insults.

This is how Donald Trump has run his businesses all his life. Unfortunately, it is now how he is running our country.