Matamata-born Chris Liddell has been given a top job by US President Donald Trump. But how does he fit into the long list of Trump’s hires, fires, triers and liars?
Chris Liddell was already doing pretty nicely for himself when the call up came. White House chief of staff John Kelly had picked him out to be one of the administration’s deputy chief of staff, responsible for policy coordination. Liddell had been the CEO of Carter Holt Harvey in New Zealand, and the chief financial officer at both General Motors and Microsoft in the US. He studied at the University of Auckland and got his Masters degree at Oxford. All of these qualifications make him somewhat unusual for Trump’s team.
Throughout the chaotic reign of Trump, the administration has been notable for throwing relatively untested figures in at the deep end. For every heavyweight like John Kelly (retired general) or Rex Tillerson (oil baron) there have been characters like Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who is now secretary of housing and urban development despite having no experience in the field, and the recently resigned Hope Hicks, who was named White House communications director despite being a political neophyte and still in her 20s. Of course, in her defence, Hicks actually showed she was significantly more competent than the much hyped Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted just six days in the job.
Liddell has been dabbling in politics since 2012, when he led a transition planning team for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. He helped out with Trump’s transition, and has been formally part of the administration since January 2017. That longevity has been a remarkable achievement in a White House that has had a 34% turnover in positions in its first year. By contrast, Politifact says Barack Obama’s staff turnover was 9%, and George W Bush’s down at 6%.
One reason for his staying power may be that Chris Liddell’s style is decidedly unflashy, in marked contrast to the rest of the reality TV idiocy of the Trump administration. Those who have been fired tended to be people who put their head above the parapet. Human pustule Steve Bannon was forced out after his open white supremacy became too much for the administration to control. FBI director James Comey got the boot, and was subsequently described by Trump as a “showboat” and a “grandstander”. And former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who had previously charted a different foreign policy course to the president, found out he had been fired by Trump while he was taking a shit. Clearly, pulling focus away from Trump is not a smart career move in this administration.
Chris Liddell rarely gives interviews, and seems to have incredibly standard pro-business politics – the sort of politics that would allow him to fit into pretty much any US presidential administration. An interview he gave Corin Dann right after the election revealed he thought Trump would tone down his rhetoric in office, compared to the wild statements made on the campaign trail. He declared himself to be an optimist in that interview too.
California’s sanctuary policies are illegal and unconstitutional and put the safety and security of our entire nation at risk. Thousands of dangerous & violent criminal aliens are released as a result of sanctuary policies, set free to prey on innocent Americans. THIS MUST STOP!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
His place in the White House appears to be within the sphere of influence of lifelike waxwork figurine Jared Kushner, who is married to first daughter Ivanka Trump. Liddell doesn’t appear to be connected at all to the lunatic pro-racism wing that flourished under the patronage of Steve Bannon. In terms of his achievements in the administration so far, Reuters reports he has earned respect for coordinating information technology modernisation projects.
But what does all of this mean for New Zealand? That much is unclear, but it doesn’t appear Chris Liddell will be in a position to do much lobbying on our behalf, for example on an exemption from steel tariffs. He may be able to do slightly more than the other proud New Zealander who has been in Trump’s orbit, passionate Kiwi advocate Peter Thiel. But we shouldn’t expect Trump, who repeated the phrase ‘America First’ at his inauguration speech, to take any increased notice of our requests.
Of course, there is perhaps one area where Liddell could have a huge impact on New Zealand’s cultural standing. He’s a former director of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Donald Trump currently hates the NFL. Now hear me out here, but what if Trump decided to make America a great rugby nation again? Once upon a time, the USA were Olympic gold medallists in rugby, and the All Blacks are always hunting for new commercial markets. Like Chris Liddell, we have to try and find at least some way to be optimistic.
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