- Wednesday, May 15, 2024

On numerous occasions during his presidency, Donald Trump said he was looking for someone like Jim Baker to be chief of staff.

For those with shaky memories, the former White House chief of staff, treasury secretary and secretary of state is a Rockefeller Republican with a Texas accent who did whatever he could to frustrate the Reagan agenda. So, while Mr. Trump started by shooting at the wrong target, what he was thinking about in a chief of staff — or any senior White House staff person, really — is clear enough: someone smart who understands Washington and has a certain native ruthlessness mixed with some residual gentility.

Mick Mulvaney was the closest he got to someone like that, and unfortunately, his significant skill set was mostly squandered.

I was thinking about those personnel challenges with respect to a possible second term for Mr. Trump when I ran across a 2021 interview with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — who has been suggested for every gig from vice president to secretary of energy. In the interview, Mr. Burgum touted North Dakota’s goal — which he himself set as governor — of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Mr. Burgum is the only Republican governor to have set that goal, and it is one he and the state share with … Gov. Gavin Newsom and California.

In the interview, he also mentioned that we live in a “carbon-constrained” world. I’m not sure what that means, but if it’s legit, someone should tell China and India and every country that signed the Kyoto Protocol, which has failed pretty spectacularly in constraining carbon dioxide emissions (up by almost 13 billion tons per year since the protocol was signed).

Mr. Burgum also mentioned that North Dakota will make a lot of cash from carbon capture and sequestration. That is certainly a possibility, but given the sentiments of environmentalists toward carbon capture and the sentiments of budget hawks toward any tax credit associated with climate change, it seems unlikely that anyone will be making much cash.

It is not just Mr. Burgum. Former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who might wind up treasury secretary, has been playing footsie with a carbon dioxide border adjustment tax. Arthur Laffer, a senior economic adviser to Mr. Trump, is a longtime advocate of a carbon dioxide tax.

In Mr. Trump’s term, the list of senior appointees who did not align with his preferences is too numerous to mention, but a partial list would include John Kelly (his longest-serving chief of staff), Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis and John Bolton.

If Mr. Trump is looking for someone like Jim Baker, the obvious first step is to focus on people who want to do what the president wants. Competence is valuable and sometimes even useful in the government, but it can’t paper over policy disagreements. Mr. Trump should emphasize selecting personnel based on their alignment with his vision.

• Michael McKenna is a contributing editor at The Washington Times. He was deputy director for legislative affairs in the Trump White House.

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