As I was reading Chris Whipple’s book, The Gatekeepers, I couldn’t help but notice how much access he had to the group of 17 White House Chiefs of Staff since Nixon’s H.R. Haldeman. Then I learned that the book was the byproduct of a documentary series on Discovery. That explains a lot about the number of interviews Whipple was given by this large group of political insiders. However, it should only serve to make you more interested in reading the book, not less.
We spend so much time in history class discussing the accomplishments of various Presidents. But unless you’re a political wonk, you may not know much about the Chief of Staff, who’s essentially the Chief Operating Officer of the White House. The President is the visionary, and the Chief is the guy who takes the vision and translates it to action. And as we know from experience during the last eight-plus years, creating results from those actions isn’t easy or quick.
I think that’s what struck me the most from Whipple’s research and interviews. Being Chief of Staff is a massive amount of work. It’s truly 24/7/365. So much so that most Chiefs are only in that position for two years. The Chief needs to be political, and have connections all over Washington. It’s how things get accomplished. But some Presidents have chosen people from their home territory as their Chief. Whipple explains the pitfalls of such a choice.
The other thing Whipple makes clear is the relationship that Presidents have with their Chiefs. The Chief is the guy who’s willing to tell the President when something is a bad idea. Again, the interviewees shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. Reading the book felt like I had a side chair alongside the Oval Office’s iconic Resolute desk.
Whipple’s writing style is conversational and smooth. He takes one long chapter for each administration, starting with the transition period where one administration plans to replace the last. He finds just the right balance between details and overview, never getting lost in the minutiae. Somehow Whipple remains focused on the Chief’s perspective, which was unique and enlightening for me.
After reading The Gatekeepers, my appreciation for Chiefs of Staff (especially those holding the position for more than two years) has grown exponentially. This unelected and unconfirmed (by the Senate) position is held by men with tremendous power and responsibility. They are wranglers, negotiators, power brokers, and insomniacs. I highly recommend this captivating view into the corridors of the West Wing.
Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the opportunity to read the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.