The key aide who ensures a US President's success or failure (Book Review)
| ByVikas Datta
Title: The Gatekeepers; Author: Chris Whipple; Publisher: Crown/Penguin Random House LLC; Pages: 384; Price: Rs 799
The floundering that marks the Donald Trump presidency so far may be due to his ignoring a crucial -- and tested -- tenet of US Presidential politics since the last half century: Appointing an efficient "gatekeeper" in the White House, letting him work unhindered and supporting him fully when needed.
Whipple lets his interlocutors take prominence, from giving their take of the major events they were involved in, to defining the job.
Among the most telling definitions offered is by Carter's belated chief of staff, Jack Watson, who says the "pretty simple" rules include "knowing your President, and being loyal to him in the broadest sense. Wanting him to be a great President -- and therefore telling him when you don't think he is. Being tough enough to make decisions and to take a lot of criticism for them..."
In the account, we also get an incisive and revealing look at the dynamics of the last eight US Presidencies.
Whipple deems Nixon's Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, as the model for a modern chief of staff despite Watergate, though expressing his bewilderment why he failed to contain the crisis despite success in heading off some of his President's earlier wild ideas, while James Baker, the first for Ronald Reagan, sets the gold standard.
As he goes on to show what lay behind subsequent Presidents' successes and failures, he also underscores the limits of Chiefs of Staff's influence and effectiveness.
And alongside, there are many interesting bits, including why Cheney and Rumsfeld were earlier popular, how much of a micromanager Carter was, what key political chore George H.W. Bush entrusted his son (George W.), why Bill Clinton's aides yelled at him, and which First Ladies were powers in their own right and more.
But while it deals with the White House -- and is invaluable for this only -- the work is also a seminal examination of the exercise and limits of power in democracies and the key lesson that all good leaders need at least one critically outspoken -- and empowered -- aide around them.