- - Tuesday, February 25, 2020

“In the Ford administration, embattled chief of staff and former general Al Haig physically grabbed an aide to obstreperous Ford adviser Robert Hartmann and told him, ‘If you have any influence over that fat Kraut, you tell him to knock it off or he’s going to be the first stretcher case coming out of the West Wing.’”

(Full disclosure: As a Nixon speechwriter, I once wrote a speech for Haig to give to a group called The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick. The working title was “The Fighting Irish.”)

Hartmann, who had come down from the Hill with Gerald Ford and was convinced those of us who were Nixon holdovers were out to do his man in, was a veteran newsman and a good writer who made two memorable contributions to the administration — the “long national nightmare is over” speech, widely applauded, and the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) slogan and button, widely panned. For much of the Ford presidency, he did his best to disrupt the attempts of anyone remotely connected with Richard Nixon to bring order to the White House.  

Tevi Troy, who “spent most of the first decade of the 21st century working in the executive branch of the U.S. government dealing with disasters,” is uniquely equipped to deal with subject of White House infighting. Following 9/11, he served on the White House Domestic Council, helping to structure the Department of Homeland Security and later working on sharpening disaster-response programs.

That experience served him well in writing “Shall We Wake the President?” (2016), a history of presidents dealing with disasters, and a previous book, “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.” (2013). 

There is incessant clamor about various staff problems in the current administration, amplified by the incessant attacks of the Never Trump mass media, fed by self-serving leakers, often angling for book contracts. However, such infighting within administrations, while not often as publicized, has always been common, to some extent reflecting the preferred management styles of the presidents.  

Harry Truman, for instance, liked order, “but Dwight Eisenhower loved it,” seeing in it a way of life. As Ike put it, “‘disorganization can scarcely fail to result in efficiency and can easily lead to disorder’” — a theory that Jimmy Carter’s administration seemed to prove, and Donald Trump’s may be retesting.

In the Kennedy administration, as Mr. Troy introduces it in a sub-head, it was “True Hatred: RFK and LBJ” — “a legendary feud, characterized by the kind of drama and fury that would make for an excellent Netflix series,” a feud that would carry over into LBJ’s presidency and help account for its failure.

The Nixon administration, despite being best remembered for Watergate, was nevertheless unusually productive, especially in foreign policy. Mr. Troy focuses on the rivalry between Henry Kissinger and William Rogers, a rivalry in which the strategically-minded Kissinger won out, thus allowing him to concentrate on initiatives such as Nixon’s trip to China, which altered the world’s balance of power and drove the first nails into the coffin of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Troy’s treatment of the Carter and Reagan administrations are studies in management styles. For most of his single term, Jimmy Carter refused to appoint a chief of staff, choosing to oversee all White House functions himself, including use of the tennis courts. 

Ronald Reagan’s management style reflected “his personal and professional approach. He was amiable and agreeable, but he also had well-formed ideological principles, and knew what he wanted … This unique combination of temperament and deep conviction contributed to the first successful two-term presidency in thirty years and one of the most consequential presidencies of the twentieth century.”

Less consequential was the one-term presidency of George H.W. Bush, the result in part of “the ideological revolution taking place in the GOP,” contributing to “the administration’s domestic policy and the sclerotic policy process.”

Bill Clinton’s administration, initially staffed by people with competing agendas, was saved by Monica Lewinsky. With the scent of impeachment in their nostrils and the reality of threatened jobs and status, the administration pulled itself together and rescued their man. As for George W. Bush, for whom he worked, Mr. Troy gives us an informed insider’s view, complete with a description of feuding and leaking speechwriters. The history of the Obama administration is still being written. 

And as for the first Trump term, with a media eager to amplify every leak from unnamed and often invented sources, and a president who seems simply not to care about many of the old standards for judging administrations, the story may have to wait for the end of the second Trump term to be written. 

With his historian’s perspective, political insights and clean crisp prose, Tevi Troy will be just the man to write it.

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

• • •


By Tevi Troy 

Regnery History, $29.99, 316 pages

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide