Trump's Inner Circle Fails to Save Him From Himself
History will record that during his first week in office the 45th president of the United States sowed plenty of his trademark chaos. Amid an impressive, lightning pace of policy changes, Donald Trump did this: asked the director of the National Park Service to produce photographs backing up his assertions about the inaugural crowd size; lied in remarks to the CIA about the media vastly underestimating the crowd size -- in spite of those photographs showing otherwise; sent his spokesman out to lie more about it to the press; bad-mouthed the way he dresses; told congressional leaders a false story involving an anecdote that a German golfer shared, which led Trump to conclude there was widespread voter fraud involving millions of “illegals” in November; and announced he is launching a probe into said fraud, despite a lack of evidence for such claims.
All that is alarming, indeed, but what stands out even more than the loopy stuff Trump has said is the powerlessness of those around him. When he heads for the rails, indulging his worst instincts, it's clear -- at least for now -- no one can stop him.
Perhaps during the campaign close aides and advisers, and of course family members, were able to mitigate damage now and then by asking Trump to lay off a Gold Star family, a disabled reporter or a Mexican judge, but no more. Maybe winning was the carrot, and with the office comes affirmation that he can dismiss the pleas of his advisers. Now that he is president, there is no Trump whisperer. Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump or her husband, Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence -- arguably any of these people around Trump would want to do anything possible to stop him. None did.
Instead of telling the president no or begging him to stop, some staff members appear to be turning, in desperation, to address him through leaks to the press. These attempts to stop the bleeding will not only fail, as public shaming only riles Trump, but they are illustrative of just how dysfunctional and divided his staff is. Loyal cohesive teams don’t leak this way.
Consider these revelations about week one:
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted Wednesday about Trump waking early Saturday on little sleep to vent about the media being out to get him; she asserted that his “worst impulse control is when he’s tired or overstretched, or in an uncertain situation,” that he is “unable to let go of any grievance or perceived slight,” is “genuinely transfixed by people thinking his election isn’t legit” and “at his most self-destructive when the stakes are high.”
On Monday the Washington Post reported on the rage that engulfed Trump late Saturday, following his first full day in office. Even after his comments to the CIA about what he insisted was a crowd four or five times the actual estimates, he ordered his press secretary to go out and repeat more lies about it. “Over the objection of aides and advisers -- who urged him to focus on policy and the broader goals of his presidency -- the new president issued a decree: he wanted a fiery public response, and he wanted it to come from his press secretary,” the Post wrote. The result was disastrous, but as aides told the Post, “in Trump’s mind, Sean Spicer’s attack on the news media was not forceful enough.”
Axios reported Wednesday that despite Spicer redeeming himself in two successful press briefings this week, “we were told that a top White House official was discussing his possible replacement. On Day 4!” And: “We hear that Trump wasn’t impressed with how Spicer dresses, once asking an aide: doesn’t the guy own a dark suit?”
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Trump had expected his coverage to improve once he took office, but he has grown angry, believing it is worse. “The bad press over the weekend has not allowed Trump to ‘enjoy’ the White House as he feels he deserves, according one person who has spoken with him,” the story noted, concluding: “those around Trump are trying to get the cable-news consumer in chief to be near a television less often.”
The inability of Kushner or Ivanka or Bannon or Priebus or Conway -- or whomever Trump purportedly listens to -- to calm or slow the president down, much less stop him, is more than worrisome. Instead of telling reporters what they would like Trump to do or stop doing, perhaps his staff could find a way to intervene before things get worse. It’s not as if they performed so well doing the rest of their jobs this week. If Trump could deliver measured remarks by teleprompter to GOP lawmakers in Philadelphia, surely he could have done the same at the CIA instead of speaking off the cuff, mostly about himself. The flurry of executive orders, its public relations success notwithstanding, has already been questioned by GOP members of Congress. Since most were written without consulting the agencies of jurisdiction, lawmakers say, some of them may not be legal or enforceable.
No one can stop Trump from public spats with the president of Mexico or change his mind on policy -- but if he hired the best people they should feel duty-bound to impede self-destructive behavior from the leader of the free world.
There are many people who didn’t expect Trump would change after arriving at the White House, but let’s hope his closest advisers will.