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By Staff | Mar 23, 2018

I have been reading Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s series of, “Killing” books. “Killing Patton,” “Killing England,” “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Reagan” are all excellent encapsulations of history, fitting events into context, becoming primers so to speak that give a clear picture of the history of the subject. I just finished “Killing Reagan” and I learned a lot about the Reagans who were private in a time when privacy was more respected and able to be protected. I also learned more about President Reagan’s battle with Alzheimer’s and the early onset of the disease that was kept from the public. According to the authors, there were symptoms and concerns over the President’s ability to conduct himself in office before Reagan left the White House.

With a little less than a year left in Reagan’s second term, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker found enough to be concerned over to commission a study of White House inner workings from Jim Cannon. Cannon conducted White House interviews and brought his findings to Baker. The report suggested that the president may no longer have had the mental clarity and ability to serve in office. On March 2nd 1987, Reagan’s son Ron Jr., Cannon, the White House legal counsel and the White House communications director were invited by Baker to a cabinet meeting. They were not there as “guests”. . . their job was to observe and evaluate President Reagan for “fitness” during the meeting. It was a 25th amendment exercise as to whether the president had the faculties to be able to execute the job as President. Can you imagine that?

Reagan had been having good days and bad days and for his Presidency, this was a good day. The President had been in what they considered permanent decline and even his son Ron, Jr believed that he was exhibiting signs of the early onset of Alzheimer’s. Reagan had a successful meeting showing a good command of the facts appearing to be “normal”. He passed the test and the potential crisis of evoking the 25th amendment went away.

What struck me from this was that the White House was bigger than the President. The White House was then a functioning institution in which the President was “President” but there was more to it than that. The idea of the White House staff doing interviews and collecting information of the President’s ability to function in office, evaluating his fitness under the 25th amendment without the President knowing, was amazing. It showed the depth of the White House. To me it showed that the institution of the White House and those working in it were truly working in the interests of the American people. This had nothing to do with partisanship, working at a level far above what we now have.

This happened and it is all the more surprising under the context of the White House we see today. There is no functioning institution there that could begin to do what Howard Baker did. We hear about the current President going into rages, becoming unhinged. He too can conduct himself well during meetings often in public, so keeps whatever dark angels he has hidden behind a screen, calling it fake news. I have no idea if President Trump is all there or not but the chaos he creates makes it seem crazy. That is not really the point though, that I am wanting to make. That point is who would take responsibility to do the interviews and evaluations in the current White House?

Who is looking out for the interests of the country today? The point is that if Trump wasn’t all there, who could or would do what Howard Baker did? There is no one in charge there with the heft to execute the interests of the country. The White House is roiled and dysfunctional. I do not believe that the President’s family has the same loyalty to the country in an instance such as this as Ron Jr. did. Ivanka is not going to out her dad. Kushner needs his dad-in-law to hold back federal prosecutors. Hope Hicks is leaving. Stephen Miller feeds White House crazy. All of the weight would be on John Kelly. The institution of the White House was functioning well when Reagan was President because he wasn’t beating the hell out of it every day. The current White House is battered. So is the administration.

There are few highly competent officials left working in the administration. Another exodus is occurring because despite over 5 mln active security clearances held by Americans, they can’t find many who would work in the White House that can get one. Temporary security clearances are just that. . . temporary.

Well before Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson left the administration this week I wrote this, “A number of high level officials: Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, Chief Economic advisor Gary Cohn, National Security director HR McMaster and even Attorney General Jeff Sessions may like to leave, but they can’t. We don’t want them to. They are the last fully competent functioning officials in the administration holding it together. If they all left, it would collapse. Even now they could not stop him from announcing tariffs. The President makes fun of the chaos because that draws attention from the seriousness of the situation. If you joke about it, it must not be so bad.”

I think that there is a problem. I think that things may be far worse than what Howard Baker was dealing with. John Kelly is in no position, lacking the resources available to him in a White House that has become such a weakened institution, for him to be able to serve the interests of the country if he needed to if that differed from serving the President. I hope that we find out that all was well in another O’Reilly book in a few years.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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