“Unelected and unconfirmed, the chief serves at the whim of the president, hired and fired by him (or her) alone. And yet, in the modern era, no presidency has functioned effectively without one.” – Chris Whipple, The Gatekeepers
As I’m writing this, our country is grappling with big, yet unsurprising news: President Trump has fired his first Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus. From the very beginning, there were questions around Priebus’s leadership style and organization of the many advisors (including family members) in Trump’s ear. And after six months of turmoil, Priebus is gone and General John Kelly, previously Secretary of Homeland Security for Trump, is now in the hot seat.
If I had one piece of advice for anyone trying to make sense of the craziness of the personnel in the Trump White House and its impact, it would be this: read The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple.
Before I picked up this book, my idea of the White House Chief of Staff was made up by scenes of The West Wing, watching Leo McGary advise President Barlet, make difficult decisions, and lead the rest of the West Wing staff. Little did I know, that the role changes with every single administration, depending on the leadership style and comfort level of the president. While there are different modes for each chief, Whipple’s interviews make it clear that having a chief with strong authority over the staff, including the president’s closest advisors, is the only way to be effective. They also must do what very few people have the courage and audacity to do: tell the president “no”. It is in these practices, along with having a brilliant handle on politics and policy, that allow chiefs of staff to succeed.
As each story is unfurled, I was amazed at the influence of the chiefs of staff in each administration, from Nixon to Obama. The performance of each chief would have a dramatic impact on all of the big moments in United States history, from Watergate to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Iran-Contra affair to the Great Recession. As Whipple makes clear in the epilogue, The Gatekeepers is much more than a history lesson from the perspectives of incredibly powerful and unelected men (yes, we’ve never had a woman chief); it is history brought to life so that we all don’t repeat our mistakes from the past.
If you’re ready to read more of these behind the scenes stories and interviews, grab a copy of Chris Whipple’s The Gatekeepers right now!
Note: I wrote this review after receiving the book from the Blogging for Books program.