In his new memoir, Barack Obama reveals that there was a terrorist threat on his Inauguration Day. As he addressed the nation, he was prepared to interrupt himself to read evacuation instructions for the millions gathered on the National Mall. Obama had been in the job just seconds, and he was experiencing his first stomach drop—the possibility of a mass-casualty event.
Transitions are hard for newly elected presidents, even under normal circumstances. “Almost all of them have foreign-policy ideas they come with,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told me when I interviewed her for my book on the presidency. “On day one, ‘I will,’ and on day one, they don’t, because it’s so complicated. They’re almost all frustrated because the world doesn’t accord with the world that they thought they were going to be able to shape. And you really can’t see that from the outside. Then you get in there and the stuff starts flowing.”
In addition to the surprises and tonnage of incoming challenges, simply starting the job is a gargantuan undertaking. It may help to imagine a presidential transition as a private-sector company going through a merger. With only two months of preparation, the new CEO must take over a $2 trillion enterprise with 4 million employees and hire 4,000 managers, 1,500 of whom have to be vetted by a hostile board of directors. Then, on his first day in the corner office, the new top man must be ready to face the most difficult challenges of running the business while simultaneously launching a brand refresh and implementing an entirely new strategic plan. Oh, and he’ll have to do all of his prep work through Zoom, during a pandemic spike that he’s supposed to manage between meetings about how to revive a crumpled economy. “Every day matters in a transition, and every day that is lost is more important than the previous day,” David Marchick, the director of the Center for Presidential Transition, told me. “You can’t make it up.”
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Saturday, November 21, 2020
John Dickerson at The Atlantic: