New Year’s Eve 2019 Forecast (What is this?)
No. Let’s assume the premise that I’m wrong on all my forecasts above and Republicans take the House & Senate. (Scientific studies have placed the probability of me being wrong at 12.5%.)*
Competence in the Executive Branch is related to the stock (number) of qualified personnel you can bring in as Presidential appointees and White House Staff. This is due to the size and complexity of Federal government. Size in that even with 4,000 Presidential appointees that’s a sliver of the size of the total government you’re trying to manage which is in excess of 2,000,000 Federal employees, not counting soldiers or contractors. In organizations that large even as simple an order as changing the light bulbs would take decades of consistent oversight to execute. Complexity in that, unlike messaging politics of Twitter, Executive Branch activities must navigate a host of barriers to getting things done. Administrative regulations are fiendishly complex, and there are courts, lawsuits and an entire country worth of activist groups and State government with the resources to go toe-to-toe with the Federal to gum up the works. Even seemingly purely political acts, such as passing legislation in a friendly Congress, requires careful navigation of relationships, egos, and competing interests within the party. This is why, even in authoritarian single-party regimes like China, it’s no small feat to get on top of the party or stay on top of the party.
In a normal administration, the inflow to fill that stock of personnel with qualified candidates, both during transition and consistently to replace those departing, come from a vast pipeline infrastructure that has been built over decades between Republican and Democratic administrations. These pipelines reach into campaigns and universities for new talents, into consulting firms; think tanks; and lobbying groups that can “hold ready” quality personnel who don’t share the right party designation as the current incumbent until things change over. These often are in the form of coteries, a “major named” figure like a Powell or Mattis bring with them teams of staff who have worked with them for years, are high-functioning within their team as soon as they hit the ground and have an advanced knowledge of ‘how things work.’
As a populist President Trump has turned off, smashed, or discouraged those pipelines from their proper functioning. And his personality style in treating high level employees means he’s not attractive to talent coming in from non-traditional areas. There’s a counterfactual we could play to say, let’s imagine Bill Gates became President as an Independent, and neither Democratic nor Republican “talent pipeline” was available to him. We could still imagine him reaching out directly to business, academia, non-profit groups – and pulling in (by direct previous interaction or name recognition and desire) a large staff of high talent people. They’d still be on their heels compared to “party” pipelines because they wouldn’t have worked together as teams before and wouldn’t have the inside knowledge.
Bottom line, whether it’s an army, company, or government – competence in fundamental leadership, blocking and tackling matters. A single person cannot manage any large complex organization, and that means you need a large cadre of qualified people who create synergy (adding more than they consume in personal agendas and internal politics) for the whole to be effective.
* Studies were not scientific. They were done in Canada. By friends. You wouldn’t know them.