Ronny Jackson must wish he never said yes.
The White House physician ended an ignominious spell as President Trump’s nominee for Veterans Affairs Secretary one month after Trump tapped him for the job. His nomination unraveled amid allegations that Jackson occasionally drank on the job, doled out Ambien at the White House like Halloween candy, and crashed a government car while drunk.
True? Half-true? Jackson says it’s all bogus, but at this point, a better question might be: Why didn’t the White House vet Jackson before Trump nominated him? And why did Trump even pick Jackson, who has scarce management experience, to run a giant bureaucracy with complex problems that runs more than 1,200 medical facilities serving 9 million veterans?
The most likely answer is that Trump simply likes Jackson. (“Ronny Jackson is one of the finest men I’ve ever met,” Trump said at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday.) Trump is obviously known, at this point, for appointing people to important jobs based on impulse and intuition, plus the presumed loyalty of the appointee. Less important: Competence and discretion. But this hiring strategy hasn’t worked. Don’t try this at home!
Nearly 40 Trump appointees have quit, resigned or been fired in Trump’s first 15 months in office, including a secretary of state, an FBI director, two national security advisers, one VA secretary prior to Jackson, and a Health and Human Services secretary. Continual leadership changeovers leave organizations directionless. Nothing gets done. Worse, the users and careerists thrive when management is distracted, or absent.
For this latest personnel flameout, and Trump’s chronic difficulty hiring pros able to get the job done, we rate this week in Trumponomics “FAILING,” our equivalent of a C-.
More Trump appointees could go. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been fighting for his job lately, and he testified before Congress this week not on policy matters but on a spate of instances in which he wasted taxpayer money, hired questionable people, created the appearance of favoring industry lobbyists, flew first class for no good reason, and seems to have broken other rules most other senior officials abide by.
In general, Pruitt has behaved like the imperious owner of a private company who can spend his money however he wants – except he’s a public employee whose salary comes from taxpayers. One wonders why Pruitt doesn’t just decamp for the private sector, where he could earn multiples of his $210,700 government salary from Big Oil, and probably fly on a corporate jet and buy a gold-plated phone booth if he really wants one.
There are at least 10 federal investigations into Pruitt’s behavior as EPA administrator, so more muck could be coming. Pruitt still has a job, probably because Trump likes Pruitt’s combative style and hasn’t yet tapped on the thin ice beneath his feet. But Pruitt is more swamp than drain, and he undermines Trump’s claim as a populist outsider who came to Washington to clean things up. Unless his critics suddenly quiet down, Pruitt’s future in Washington seems short.
Does all this turnover matter? To many Trump voters, probably not. But continual turmoil weakens organizations in ways that don’t always become apparent until something stresses the system. Every administration endures scandals it never saw coming, and it’s a good bet there is some festering problem at the VA or the EPA or the State Department that is getting worse, not better, and will embarrass Trump before long.
In other Trumponomics news this week, the president did nothing to spook the stock market! And better-than expected economic growth brought GDP growth for the last 12 months to 2.9%, just shy of Trump’s goal of 3% growth or better. It’s more likely than not economic growth will hit Trump’s target this year, which is something Trump will no doubt be bragging about, before long. That would be easier if Trump didn’t have to keep explaining why his employees do what they do.
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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman