Mick Mulvaney will have the toughest job in the White House, and Trump better not ruin it

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and until three days ago also the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is adding acting White House chief of staff to his plate.

Mulvaney, one of the few establishment fiscal wonks of the Trump administration, has been in high demand in a White House bleeding mainstream political operatives. The selection of Mulvaney for a job that no one really wants is wise, insofar as the former congressman has demonstrated political skill.

In practice, it’ll probably be a disaster.

For one thing, when the relationship between Trump and Mulvaney blows up (which it inevitably will, as it would with any chief of staff pick), the White House will lose one of its few truly competent fiscal conservatives. Second, placing Mulvaney front and center will render his entire strategy to manage his relationship with Trump impossible.

At the OMB, Mulvaney’s been responsible, perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, for conservative rollbacks of Obama’s regulatory state. Consider this exchange from a Politico magazine piece last year:

“Look, this is my idea on how to reform Social Security,” the former South Carolina congressman began.

“No!” the president replied. “I told people we wouldn’t do that. What’s next?”

“Well, here are some Medicare reforms,” Mulvaney said.

“No!” Trump repeated. “I’m not doing that.”

“OK, disability insurance.”

“Tell me about that,” Trump replied.

“It’s welfare,” Mulvaney said.

“OK, we can fix welfare,” Trump declared.

Sure enough, the Trump budget plan that Mulvaney unveiled a few weeks later would cut about $70 billion in disability benefits over a decade, mostly through unspecified efforts to get recipients back to work.

Mulvaney is an economic wonk, an attorney with a focus in anti-trust law. The self-described “right-wing nutjob” has excelled in both of his posts during this presidency, mainly because of his ability to circumvent Trump on policy minutiae while maintaining an excellent rapport with him. Trump thinks himself a warrior, and Mulvaney is certainly a happy one.

But managing Trump as a person and as his personnel is a different story. If it ends badly with Mulvaney leaving the administration altogether, Trump will have lost a true and increasingly rare talent.

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