The Gatekeepers: Excellent Read For All The Political Junkies Out There


WOW – wrote this post earlier this week not realizing how timely it was going to be and that I would need to do a last minute edit before it went out this morning.

Chris Whipple’s book about the role and power of the chiefs of staff for presidents Nixon through Obama, is a great read. Highly recommend – especially for my political junkie friends – and really who isn’t into politics these days?

  • Whipple interviewed all seventeen chiefs of staff who remain alive today.
  • He was privy to all the juicy details on how each president’s White House functioned.
  • The management style of each president is crucial in determining what kind of chief of staff he wants (which is often very different from what he needs).
  • The Gatekeepers delves into the details of how each president’s chief of staff ended up defining the presidency  he served.

What I found most intriguing were the similarities in how many of the presidents functioned (or not) within the White House.

  • The amount of chaos and hubris and vicious feuding that goes on in almost all administrations is mind-boggling.
  • What was even more lamentable was how similar the issues were in so many of the administrations – from Carter to Clinton to Bush (the Decider).
  • Very different presidents, but once they got into office, the hubris took over and they acted very similarly in many situations.

Read on below for which administration reminded me the most of Trump’s.

Incredibly, the Carter administration reminded me the most of the Trump White House (shocking I know!).

Quotes from the book:

  • To Ham Jordan, Carter’s victory meant one thing: the outsiders had won; the Establishment had lost.
  • The new administration would answer to the American people – not to Capitol Hill’s powers that be.
  • Carter saw himself as the guy whom everybody had dismissed…
  • Carter didn’t want a chief of staff. He thought he could figure it out. He’d done everything else in an unusual way. So why not this?
  • And on and on…

Other presidents who reminded me of Trump included Nixon (of course) and Clinton (total chaos and no desire over the first two years to have a strong chief of staff).

On the other hand, Reagan and George H.W. Bush ran the tightest ships throughout most of their presidencies.

  • They made relatively few mistakes in who they selected for this most important position. Their embrace of strong and accomplished chiefs of staff says a lot about them.

Not sure whether Whipple ran out of steam, or whether there hasn’t been sufficient time for reflection, but the chapters on Obama’s White House seemed pretty thin.

  • However, I absolutely adore the picture of Obama with his final chief, Denis McDonough (lower left above).
  • They were very close, like brothers, and this photo was of the walk they took every evening (called The Wrap).
  • McDonough would always have his red folder with him as well as notecards to jot down do-outs coming out of their walk-and-talks. I admire the discipline and the trust they had in each other.

Based on everything we know about Donald Trump, it was always highly likely that Reince Priebus would not survive the first year.

  • Barely 6 months as it turns out but the writing was on the wall since day 1
  • He never had the respect of the President
  • And once the staff just stopped attending his daily briefings since they knew he had no power, well….

But now what?  No modern-day president has ever succeeded without a strong and effective chief of staff. Fingers crossed General Kelly can bring some order to a White House that even the NY Post has resorted to calling the “craziest reality show on TV”.

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