For months, those closest to President Trump tried to keep him happy by giving him everything he wanted. He was complimented often, presented with information in the style he prefers — brief, with lots of pictures, charts and “killer graphics” — and was allowed to move at his own frenetic, disorganized pace. Trump’s reputation for having a short attention span and fondness for flattery spread quickly around the world and in May, as he embarked on his first international trip, foreign governments handled him as they might a sleep-deprived toddler.
Along with brevity, the president prefers breadth. He has an open-door policy at the Oval Office and welcomes the opinions of every old friend who happens to have his cell-phone number. He’ll also skim any printout slipped onto his desk, but he prefers those that pump up his ego.
Now, a month into his tenure as chief of staff, John Kelly is trying to change all that. Hired with the mandate to bring order to the chaotic West Wing, Kelly is orchestrating a change in the way Trump receives information, Politico reports. Along with two of his aides, Kelly is vetting the documents that are put in front of Trump’s eyes. No more one-sided attempts to persuade him. No more fake news. No more backbiting played out through printed-out news stories on the Oval Office desk.
The new system, laid out in two memos co-authored by Kelly and Porter and distributed to Cabinet members and White House staffers in recent days, is designed to ensure that the president won’t see any external policy documents, internal policy memos, agency reports, and even news articles that haven’t been vetted.
The documents that are vetted will be compiled into something Kelly is calling a “decision memo,” which will lay out Trump’s options on different issues and present him with the upsides and downsides of each. If all of this sounds like a particularly sane way for Trump to make decisions, that’s because it’s the method previous presidents have used. Having tried to treat him like a child, Trump’s handlers are now treating him like an adult. Problem is, that method doesn’t lend itself to the anarchic style of decision-making Trump prefers.
White House aides note that the new system is likely to slow the policymaking process. Executive orders, dashed out in a matter of days at the outset of the administration, are now likely to go through weeks of review as they are circulated to policy advisers, lawyers, and the president’s legislative affairs team.
Those processes would no doubt result in fewer embarrassments, like the botched rollout of Trump’s travel ban, the ban on transgender servicemembers that was announced to the military’s surprise, and the complete lack of legislative success eight months into the Trump presidency.
But those problems are only avoided, and those successes only enjoyed, if Trump plays along, and those odds seem long. If he couldn’t help but get distracted by cable news and TV when his aides were presenting him with big pictures and “killer graphics,” how’s he going to stay focused on a “decision memo”?