It has been a trying few days for Mick Mulvaney, the former South Carolina congressman who nows serves as acting White House chief of staff. Last Thursday, he managed to torpedo weeks of the Trump administration's messaging on the Ukraine scandal with just a few sentences, telling flabbergasted reporters that the president indeed withheld military aid from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate a cockamamie conspiracy theory about a secret server full of Hillary Clinton emails. "We do that all the time with foreign policy," Mulvaney said, seemingly admitting the precise abuse of power that prompted House Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry of his boss.
Later that day, he issued a mop-up statement that treated his earlier comments like they had never taken place. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server," Mulvaney said. He also accused the media of "miscontru[ing]" his comments to "advance a biased and political witch hunt," even though his verbatim comments arguably required no construing to establish the existence of a corrupt quid pro quo that the White House, to that point, had strenuously denied.
As if exacerbating one ongoing crisis within the GOP was not enough, during the same press conference, Mulvaney defended the administration's announcement that it would host next year's G-7 summit at Doral—a struggling Florida golf resort that just happens to be owned by the Trump Organization. “Doral was by far and away, by far and away the best physical location,” Mulvaney said. Even after Trump reversed course on the heels of a bipartisan backlash to this flagrant bit of self-enrichment, his chief of staff still wasn't ready to concede the argument. "At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business," Mulvaney said on Sunday, describing the President of the United States. "He wanted to put on the absolute best show—the best visit that he possibly could."
This sequence of events did not sit well with Republican senators, many of whom elected to offer frank, on-the-record evaluations of Mulvaney's performance in interviews with Politico. Iowa senator Chuck Grassley described him as "probably somebody that didn't know what they were talking about," while Missouri senator Josh Hawley called the Ukraine fracas "certainly a distraction" and not "helpful." Perhaps the most ominous-sounding assessment, though, came from South Dakota senator John Thune. "It’s hard to figure out what led him to make some of those statements last week," he said, describing it as a "tough week" and a "rough patch" for Mulvaney. Thune added: "Ultimately, he serves at the pleasure of the president."
Politico notes that no senators are openly calling for Mulvaney's replacement, perhaps in part because it hard to imagine who would want the job of chief of staff to a president who is the subject of an active impeachment inquiry. According to Bloomberg, Trump has privately floated the possibility of replacing Mulvaney with a number of figures who are already prominent with the MAGAsphere, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell.
The fact that Mick Mulvaney ever became the right-hand man to a president is still kind of incredible to those who have followed his brief career in national politics. A former South Carolina state legislator who was elected to Congress as a Tea Party Republican in 2010, Mulvaney did not have a particularly productive track record as a lawmaker in Washington. He joined the Freedom Caucus, sung the praises of fiscal conservatism, and used his speaking opportunities on Capitol Hill to rail against the dangers of government overreach. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee with oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mulvaney referred to the CFPB as a "joke" and expressed his belief that it should not exist.
During the Trump administration, however, Mulvaney and his fellow reactionaries became budding influencers within the new Republican Party, entrusted with duties that go far beyond their objective qualifications. Mulvaney has proven to be an especially dependable acolyte who would happily accept any task given to him—a convenient, easy option whenever Trump decided that finding someone well-suited for a job would be too cumbersome. In December 2016, Trump tapped him to direct the Office of Management and Budget; the next year, he made Mulvaney acting director of the CFPB, too. Although he relinquished that second role when he became acting White House chief of staff in December 2018, Mulvaney remains nominally in charge as the OMB to this day, even as he entangles himself further in the president's Ukraine scandal.
Neither of Trump's first two chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus or John Kelly, seemed to mesh well with the president, in large part because they seemed frustrated by their inability to rein in his worst instincts. Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chair, resigned after six months, making him one of the shortest-tenured White House chiefs of staff in history. His successor was retired Marine Corps general John Kelly, who often seemed barely able to conceal his contempt for Trump's antics, and when he quit last December, the two were reportedly no longer on speaking terms.
Mulvaney, though, is different—a legislator whose thin résumé makes him a perfect chief of staff for a president who doesn't particularly want his worst instincts reined in in the first place. Politico's description of the Mulvaney White House is not exactly a workplace in chaos, but it does sound like one in which no one is really in charge: "Trump’s open-door policy with rank-and-file Republicans has become even more freewheeling than usual. Senators speak to the president frequently with no layering of staff, allowing access to a president for whom no one else can really speak."
After nearly a year on the job, Trump still has yet to remove the "acting" designation from Mulvaney's title—a constant reminder that he could be replaced at any moment, relegated to the weird post-MAGA life of Fox News cable hits and occasional CPAC appearances. "I kind of like 'acting,'" Trump said earlier this year, explaining why he was in "no hurry" to name permanent replacements to Cabinet positions, either. "It gives me more flexibility." As his stumbles this week demonstrate, Mick Mulvaney was not cut out to be a real White House chief of staff, and he managed to become one only because Trump finds his weaknesses convenient.
The music legend and former Oasis member sits down with GQ for a long, delightfully profane chat about, well, everything under the sun and more.
Originally Appeared on GQ