The vice president should be preparing for the worst

One good thing about holding a senior position in government is you get a lot of free advice, which brings me to the choice Vice President Mike Pence is about to make when he chooses a new chief of staff.

The vice president should consider taking a different approach from what has become the norm in Washington. Specifically, he should neither elevate a staffer, nor appoint a political generalist or media handler. He should appoint a serious adult with experience in senior positions in government. The vice president's office is already known in Washington as "the pod of normalcy," based primarily on Pence's own sound judgment and calm demeanor. His office is populated with good people who are capable, get along well with each other and are not part of the wild dramas constantly emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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 as of last week a partial government shutdown was continuing. 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.  

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. 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. 

Ed Rogers is a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns.

 

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