Trump Would Be Terrible at Managing the Presidency

His shambolic campaign operation suggests Donald Trump would be awful at running the government.

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in Fountain Hills, Arizona, March 19 (Gage Skidmore)

A couple of stories this week suggest Donald Trump would be the stuff of federal employees’ nightmares if he is elected president in November.

Bloomberg reports that Trump told campaign surrogates on a recent conference call to defy instructions from his staff to play down his racist comments about a judge.

“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”

He’s referring to the people he hired to run his presidential campaign, mind you.

Trump last week claimed the judge in the case against his defunct Trump University has an “absolute conflict” because of his “Mexican heritage.”

Typically, Trump doubled down in the face of adversity. “The people asking the questions — those are the racists,” he said on the call. “I would go at ’em.”

So we have Trump refusing to climb down from a racist comment, refusing to take advice from his own confidants and shaming his staff in front of others — none of which are the type of qualities you should want in a leader.


As if that weren’t bad enough, his campaign appears to be a shambles.

MSNBC reports that the former television personality still has virtually no campaign organization in place.

Republicans working to elect Trump describe a bare-bones effort debilitated by infighting, a lack of staff to carry out basic functions, minimal coordination with allies and a message that’s prisoner to Trump’s momentary whims.

There is no communications team to deal with the hundreds of media outlets covering the presidential election, no rapid response director to quickly rebut attacks and a limited cast of surrogates who — as we’ve seen — lack a cohesive message.

Worse, the people Trump does have can’t stand each other — and that’s by design! He fosters a rivalry between his loyal campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski (the one who was charged with battering a reporter), and more freewheeling top advisor Paul Manafort, who was brought in to professionalize the outfit in March.

Wrenches into the machinery

Why does all of this matter?

Joshua Foust has argued that hiring the right people is actually one of the most important — and underrated — responsibilities a president has. You can’t “just throw a bunch of wrenches into the machinery and assume everything will function normally,” he writes.

President Barack Obama didn’t get off to a good start in this regard, according to Foust, and it showed.

Rather than rely on functional experts to do their work, “the people who would have to mobilize the enormous apparatus of government to accommodate any big change in policy,” the Democrat often went to personal, trusted associates.

There’s something to be said for keeping a few loyalists close, but the balance needs to be in favor of people who know what they’re doing. The federal government is a huge and complex operation; Jonathan Bernstein has argued at Bloomberg View that many of the Obama Administration’s failures are due to the president’s disinterest in running it.

Given what we’ve learned about the Trump campaign in the last few days, I have no doubt he would be many times worse.

Trump thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, hires only yes men, mocks and fires those who speak against him and seems incapable of delegating. Little wonder he has almost no talent to draw on; no self-respecting policy expert or political operative would work for a man like that.

Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, “is criticized for the vast patronage and crony network she commands,” writes Foust, but at least she was able “to rapidly staff the State Department in 2009” as she would be able to fill a Clinton White House in January 2017.

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