Five things Gen. John Kelly must do to right the ship at the White House

  • Four-star general John Kelly needs to start strong if he wants to create order in the White House as chief of staff.
  • Kelly should learn from Reince Priebus's mistakes.
  • Kelly needs to get a process in place, demand every staffer follow it and have the president's backing.
  • If Trump refuses to back him, Kelly should resign immediately.

Four-star general John Kelly was sworn in Monday as President Trump's second chief of staff, after Reince Priebus was unceremoniously dumped on Twitter last Friday. There are several reasons for Mr. Priebus's difficulty in leading the Trump White House, but one of the most significant was that staff members were able to go around him to get to the president. Here's how General Kelly can succeed in taking Mr. Trump's White House from tumultuous to winning:

  1. Put in place a process for decision-making, get President Trump's agreement on it and then demand every member of the staff follow those guidelines. This will improve both productivity in the West Wing and relationships between colleagues. If everyone understands a clear chain of command, they are more likely to work within the system to achieve their objectives. It will also help the president focus on only the very big things.

  2. Demand hiring, firing and budget authority. If someone violates rule No. 1, fire him or her. No one comes on board the White House staff or exits it without General Kelly's knowledge and approval. If large sums of money on staffing, travel or other projects can't be spent without the chief of staff's approval, staff will be forced to work through Kelly's office.

  3. Understand your weaknesses. General Kelly hasn't had to work the Hill and he hasn't had to spend time thinking about the state of the Republican party. He's going to need to do both now if Trump is to succeed in pushing through major tax reform. He has strong staff with deep ties to all corners of the Republican Party. He should utilize Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Political Director Bill Stepien and Counselor Kellyanne Conway among others to help him navigate this new terrain.

  4. Insist the president develop his own policy and actively campaign for it. Team Trump should not rely on the Hill to lead. The president is still very popular with the base of the GOP and if he pushes sound conservative policy, conservative activists are likely to demand Republican members support him. At least for now, a win for President Trump is a win for the Republicans on the Hill. Given the state of the health-care debate, tax reform is now ground zero for Mr. Trump.

  5. If President Trump refuses to back up you up, resign. One of Reince Priebus's failings was his blind desire for the job. He was willing to put up with nonsense and mistreatment even when I'm sure his gut told him otherwise. Trump never backed him and so few others gave him the respect his office deserved. If General Kelly operates in the same fashion, the outcome will be no different.

Commentary by Sara Taylor Fagen, a partner at DDC Advocacy and a former political director for President George W. Bush. Follow her on Twitter @sarafagen2.

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