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Commentary: A solid replacement for Reince Priebus

Reince Priebus is on the ropes, and for good reason. He’s been elevated to a job he wasn’t sufficiently qualified for. The GOP health care plan he championed in the White House has died an ignominious death.

The whole administration is a mess, understaffed and, to make things worse, too incompetent to staff up in the way it obviously needs to. And from an ideological standpoint, Reince and Trump might as well belong to different parties; in terms of worldview, there’s just very little the two have in common.

So it’s time for Reince to go. This should be obvious enough, and some folks in Mar-a-Lago North certainly get it. Reince is a decent guy, everyone will tell you, but boy is he in over his head. Unless something changes fast, and it won’t, the former RNC chief is living on borrowed time.

White House plays blame game on health care

The question then turns to who should replace him. Over at Yahoo News, Matt Bai wrote weeks ago that Trump would need a new chief-of-staff, and that the new person would have to clean house and fire a lot of people. An outsider would be needed, but one who Trump knows, likes, and trusts.

Bai floated Chris Christie for the job, and the term-limited New Jerseyan would almost undoubtedly take it if offered. More than that, the idea makes a lot of sense, because while you can say plenty of bad things about Christie, the guy is a smart manager with keen, if imperfect, political instincts.

He’s also kind of a jerk, which might be a necessary qualification for dealing with a knife-fighter like Steve Bannon. Christie has the rare personal qualities and experience necessary to take charge in this uniquely rambunctious administration, and the guts to fire everyone who needs firing, which at this point is much of the administrations’ officer class.

The obvious hitch in such a plan is Jared Kushner, whose father Charlie Kushner was sent to a federal penitentiary by Christie back in the aughts. This, unsurprisingly, means that Jared’s hatred for Christie is bone-deep. And of course, Jared is much more than a son-in-law to Trump – at this point, in fact, Kushner might have as much if not more foreign policy clout within the administration as Rex Tillerson. When savvy diplomats come to D.C., they head Kusher’s way, knowing that he knows the president’s mind far better than a new and largely untested acquaintance like Tillerson.

Let’s count Christie out, then, whatever his merits. Bizarrely for a president, Trump would seem to have few obvious options for a new CoS, which might be Reince’s greatest strength at the moment. So what if we just focus on the two most basic qualifications – organizational talent and coming from outside the White House – and see who fits the bill.

Carly Fiorina, perhaps? Trump could use more women on the team, but her last big job didn’t turn out so hot, and who knows if she’d even work for him given their past encounters.

What about Rudy Giuliani? He was a tremendous manager turning his tenure as Mayor of New York, but that was 20 years ago. Also, running the White House for Trump necessitates someone who is something of a diplomat – someone with a bit of grace, a way of bringing about peace between warring factions. Rudy, meanwhile, is still perhaps the least diplomatic man in the city, which would put him high in the running for least diplomatic worldwide. And he just brings so much drama wherever he goes. The White House would not be enhanced by his presence.  

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But there’s someone close to Giuliani who merits real consideration for the job: Joe Lhota, one of the most able administrators in New York City history and, as Rudy’s deputy mayor and budget czar in the 1990s, someone who Trump already likely respects. Lhota’s most recent government job was literally making the trains run on time as head of New York’s behemoth Metro Transit Authority, a job he excelled at even as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the city.

Lhota is not a politician – to the extent he’s known at all to a national audience, it’s as the GOP’s no-hope candidate for NYC mayor four years ago. That’s a plus, not a minus, however: Let Bannon do the job of running Trump’s political strategy, while Lhota runs day-to-day ops at the White House.

The obvious tension between Reince and Bannon has been a problem in this administration from the get-go. Lhota, however, would have no ambitions to encroach on Bannon’s turf; he’s a deputy by nature, and a brilliant one.

It’d be an unorthodox pick, sure, and Lhota might need a sherpa or two to help him navigate the unique complexities of the executive branch. The much bigger hurdle is the fact that Trump would also need to get over a few unflattering things Lhota said about him during the primary, which the president has obvious difficulty doing.

But this White House, and by extension the country as a whole, could do a lot worse than having a steady guy like Lhota whispering in Trump’s ear. It’s hard to think Trump isn’t already mulling options to replace Reince, and if he is, hopefully Rudy is somewhere nearby to put in a good word for his old deputy. 

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