Donald Trump’s new chief of staff once called him ‘a terrible human being’
President Donald Trump had long made clear the qualities he was looking for in his next chief of staff.
And when his first pick turned him down, sparking a frantic search, the president turned to the man he’d already tapped for two previous jobs in his administration: Mick Mulvaney, a blunt, fast-talking former South Carolina congressman turned budget chief who had told Mr Trump months ago he wanted the job.
It was an obvious choice to many outside the administration that reflects the challenges ahead: Mr Trump will soon be fighting for re-election as he contends with a House controlled by Democrats eager to use their new subpoena power to investigate his administration and business dealings.
And the Russia investigation continues, with the drip-drip of new allegations mounting daily. But for President Trump, a notoriously mercurial president who has already cycled through two chiefs of staffs in as many years, the decision was as much about current appearances as future negotiations: Spurned by several frontrunners and angry over the growing narrative that he couldn’t find someone to take the job, Mr Trump made the offer on Friday afternoon at a meeting that had originally been scheduled to discuss the ongoing budget showdown that threatens a holiday shutdown.
Mr Mulvaney accepted — and even kept his current position as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Mr Trump had made clear to confidantes that, for his third chief of staff, he wanted someone that he liked personally and who would not try to rein him in as John Kelly had during the first months of his soon-to-sour tenure.
Mr Trump missed the more freewheeling feel of the Oval Office under his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and wanted someone he could get along with — someone he could trade gossip with, who would complain along with him about his favourite subject, the “fake news,” as well as someone with the political savvy he felted Mr Kelly lacked.
But, as it has awkwardly now come to light, Mr Mulvaney was not always fond of Donald Trump.
At a November 2016 event in South Carolina, Mr Mulvaney said “Do I like Donald Trump? No” but he did add that he was a better choice for president than Hillary Clinton.
The then-congressman, who was captured on video unearthed by The Daily Beast on Saturday, added that he was backing Mr Trump “as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being.”
MULVANEY WILL LET ‘TRUMP BE TRUMP’
Despite thinking the president is a “terrible human being”, many still think Mr Mulvaney is the right pick.
Mr Mulvaney “will let Trump be Trump,” Senator Rand Paul, who knows both men well, said in an interview on Saturday.
While other top advisers in the administration have tried to steer the president’s policies, Paul said, Mr Mulvaney gets Mr Trump and shares some of his instincts on both domestic and a non- interventionist foreign policy.
Mr Mulvaney’s “not going to squash” Trump’s instincts, said Mr Paul, who welcomed the congressman as an early supporter of his own libertarian-leaning presidential bid in 2015.
Though Mr Mulvaney had sent mixed public signals in recent weeks as to whether he wanted the chief of staff position, he previously expressed to the president that he wanted the job.
Over a dinner last summer during a bout of deliberations about Mr Kelly’s future, Mr Mulvaney told Mr Trump that was interested and vowed to manage the staff and not the president, an answer Mr Trump liked, according to a White House official and a person familiar with the dinner who were not authorised to publicly discuss private conversations.
Having grown increasingly weary of aides who would tell him no, Mr Trump felt aligned with the man he had appointed OMB director.
He also had become personally fond of Mr Mulvaney as the two met to discuss budget matters and played golf together.
The president, who has little patience for lengthy briefings, also appreciated the colourful maps and graphics the budget director would use to highlight his presentations.
And he considered Mr Mulvaney a natural on television. During one particularly memorable televised Cabinet meeting, Mr Mulvaney discussed his efforts to overhaul government regulation by explaining, in dramatic exasperation, that the Food and Drug Administration regulates cheese pizza, but not if one adds pepperoni, and that an open-faced roast beef sandwich comes under different jurisdiction than one with two slices of bread.
“This is stupid,” said Mr Mulvaney at the end of his colourful monologue.
The president loved the performance.
“That was incredibly said,” Mr Trump marvelled, telling the assembled press, “I think you should put that on television, not what I said.”
For President Trump, who rarely likes to cede the spotlight, it was an especially notable comment.