If Donald Trump is seriously thinking about cleaning house and starting over with new advisors, as Mike Allen reported in Axios Sunday morning, then this is the best suggestion yet that the president is looking to get his White House back on track. Firing Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn, and Sean Spicer, however, would be a short-term pain killer when what’s needed is full-on surgery.
And in this case, the disease is the White House’s propensity to generate negative news, nearly all of it self-inflicted by Donald Trump.
What we have here is not a public relations problem or a staff problem (although the bickering, backstabbing, and jockeying for power between factions of Trump world is an unnecessary distraction). What we have is a Trump problem. As much as Spicer and Priebus have made mistakes – and they certainly have – senior staffers in the White House can only do so much when the driver behind the wheel is predisposed to swerving the car 90 mph into the emergency guard rails.
As Allen reports, “Trump’s friends are telling him that many of his top aides don’t know how to work with him, and point out that his approval ratings aren’t rising, but the leaks are.” The president is angry with just about everybody who is working for him, from the mid-level staffer in the communications shop up to the cabinet secretaries who he sees as too quick to claim credit for accomplishments. A president who has based some of the biggest decisions he’s made thus far – the firings of Sally Yates and James Comey, the Syria missile strike – on emotion can’t seem to free himself from his inner feelings when it comes to the people around him.
But if Trump is looking for someone to blame, he should check the mirror. Maybe he doesn’t understand the significance of the moment or (more likely) refuses to accept any responsibility for his administration’s failings, but the Trump presidency hasn’t exactly been a comfortable place to work. Leaks that have made their way into the newspapers paint a picture of a White House with no clear lines of decision-making authority, no teamwork spirit, no game plan for how to manage crises in the press, and no guarantee that the president won’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning and decide to fire half the building.
If the staff can’t work with Trump, how can Trump expect to get any of his domestic legislative agenda through Congress? The White House can’t function if the boss is eternally pissed off at his employees and the employees live in constant fear of reprisal.
The president of the United States sets the tone and direction of the administration, and the tone coming out of Trump’s mouth isn’t a positive one. It’s not about the virtues of tax cuts for the middle class, the urgency of fixing a broken health care system, or repairing bridges that are crumbling. Instead, it’s all about revenge and vindictiveness. Career law enforcement professionals are insulted on national television. Senior lawmakers are called childish names. Frontal attacks are ordered on any institution (the courts, the Congress, the intelligence community, the media) that dares to act like a check and balance on the White House.
What civil servant wants to work for a boss who constantly bashes his fellow civil servants? How about defending your boss’s positions or tweets to a hostile press corps, only to have your efforts contradicted and shredded hours later by the same man you’re attempting to defend? It doesn’t sound like a terrific opportunity, does it?
Here’s a thought: if so many administration officials are finding it difficult to work for the president, perhaps it’s the president that needs to acclimate.