White House chaos: Why even Trump’s aides are worried
“For a few months this fall and winter, someone who was squinting just right could see the Trump administration starting to finally get its footing,” said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Former Marine Gen. John Kelly had instilled some military discipline as White House chief of staff, and President Trump’s approval ratings rose when Congress passed a major tax cut. But after several convulsive weeks, any illusion of stability is gone. “The president, and the presidency, are as far off the rails as ever.” First came the Rob Porter domestic abuse scandal, which led to the revelation that many senior staffers were working without permanent security clearances. In response, Kelly downgraded the top-secret access of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. After admitting in testimony to a House panel that she sometimes told “white lies” for the president, communications director Hope Hicks suddenly announced her resignation, said Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, and Josh Dawsey in The Washington Post. Known variously as the president’s “surrogate daughter” and the “Trump whisperer,” Hicks soothed the president’s frequent eruptions of anger. Worried aides say Trump is increasingly isolated and angry, rages at the television screen, and “confides to friends that he is uncertain about whom to trust.” Last week, with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation looming larger, the president lashed out anew at Attorney General Jeff Sessions before proposing a “shock trade war” that jolted the markets and caused White House economic adviser Gary Cohn to resign. “Morale is the worst it’s ever been,” said a Republican strategist who is in frequent contact with White House staff. “Nobody knows what to expect.”
Trump does have a “habit of shooting himself in the foot,” said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post, but his presidency was always going to be “unique.” Millions of Americans voted for him for that very reason, knowing he was a tireless “warrior” who would disrupt conventional politics and turn Washington on its head. Trump’s confidants say his tolerance for chaos is almost superhuman, said David Jackson in USAToday.com. He has actively welcomed melodrama and disorder throughout his career—in real estate and in politics—and usually finds a way to turn it to his advantage. Remember, says Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), “[Trump] had the worst campaign ever. On election night, he was the guy smiling.”
Campaigning isn’t governing, said Linda Feldmann in CSMonitor.com, and to govern Trump needs a competent staff. Barely into the second year of his presidency, Trump has “set records for turnover”—losing more than a dozen senior staffers, including five communications directors, a chief of staff, a press secretary, a national security adviser, and a chief strategist. And the exodus probably won’t end with Hicks and Cohn. Trump reportedly wants to oust “condescending” national security adviser H.R. McMaster and keeps trying to force out Sessions, whom he derisively calls “Mr. Magoo” and resents for having recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump is also reportedly pitting Kelly and Kushner against each other, suggesting that his chief of staff send the young Jared packing. The president essentially confirmed that more heads will roll this week when he tweeted there was no “chaos, only great energy”—and then adding, “I still have some people that I want to change.”
How does he plan to replace them, exactly? asked Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. Trump “struggled with staffing from the start,” after his shambolic and divisive campaign alienated most respectable job candidates. Recruiting qualified people has only gotten harder as the dysfunction has deepened, leaving Trump with fewer responsible advisers to rein in his worst excesses. Even those who are rooting for the president to succeed have to admit that “Trump is his own worst enemy,” said Noemie Emery in WashingtonExaminer.com. His irrational outbursts and his attacks on his own Cabinet officials, including Sessions and McMaster, may “usher in a Congress that wants to impeach him.” Even Republicans are growing weary of the constant turmoil.
“There’s every reason to believe things will get worse, not better,” said Chris Cillizza in CNN.com. Ethics scandals are damaging a growing number of Trump’s Cabinet officials; Kushner faces grave questions over his business dealings with foreign governments and banks; and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is creeping ever closer to the Oval Office. “A lonely and cornered Trump rarely reacts well”—as last week’s sudden announcement of a “trade war” demonstrated. More “score-settling” with his enemies and flailing aides is coming, as Trump’s impotent wrath grows. “Think the White House is in chaos now? Just wait.”