The dam, it seems, has broken for Joe Biden’s highly disciplined, always-on-message, mega-professional, pro-staffed White House. Recent stories about the West Wing being “adrift” have appeared in NBC and The Washington Post, both essentially reporting what I’ve been saying in this space for weeks: the knives are out for Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a brilliant tactician who is nevertheless facing blowback on account of Biden’s low approval numbers and his own, albeit often necessary, neurotic pageant-mom management of the gaffe-happy president.
Is it surprising that Klain, who runs the ship, would become the focus of such criticism? Of course not; that’s life at the top, especially in this town. But the intensity and flow of vitriol is surprising. It seems to suggest that donors, House members, and even Klain’s own aides don’t want to hold their fire until he presumably decides to leave his post after the midterms. Are they trying to force his hand, in a desperate bid to save the Democratic party’s Congressional fortunes before they are crushed in November? From what I’m hearing, some party insiders are just so desperate for any change and they’d be willing to take a few news cycles about the dysfunction to facilitate it sooner rather than later. (The White House did not offer a comment on the situation.)
In the meantime, the Biden White House is nothing if not well-organized, and Klain’s potential successor is already in the building. Anita Dunn is back in the White House for a third tour from her powerhouse influence shop, SKDK. A trusted advisor to Biden, Dunn understands his politics and style, but potentially elevating another longtime Biden loyalist to run the White House suggests that those at the top will adhere to the Klainian strategy of heavily managed insularity. Is that the best path forward? A certain uncompetitiveness has played a role in stories about an exodus of black staffers, many of whom felt that they couldn’t ascend the ranks because Biden’s old hands dominated the top rung of the org chart. And perhaps it has also blinded some in the West Wing from other unattractive notable decisions. Early in the Biden-Klain tenure, the Post noted that the adult children, spouses, and close relatives of at least five top aides, including Klain and Steve Ricchetti, had secured White House jobs. It wasn’t quite Javanka-type stuff, obviously, but it prevented those coveted jobs from going to more diverse candidates.