After the stalled travel ban, the awful approval ratings, the staff infighting and the passage of an omnibus spending bill that could have only be viewed as a loser for the administration, the last thing President Donald Trump needed was another crisis of his own making. And yet, with the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, that’s exactly what he got. Nobody is talking about the Trump administration’s legislative priorities now. Instead, the national discussion is: Comey, Comey, Comey.
Was it surprising that Trump stripped the FBI director of his job? Yes, absolutely. Nobody in Washington expected Trump would be bold enough to make that move. According to public reports, the rank-and-file of the Bureau are now experiencing all kinds of emotions: anger that Trump didn’t have the courtesy to fire Comey directly, upset that Comey had to learn about the end of his career from a “breaking news” headline on TV and disquiet that the man heading an investigation into possible Russian collusion would be removed by the man at the center of that investigation.
But what was even more surprising is that the White House was unaware that the president’s decision would be a political bombshell. How on God’s green earth could Trump and his advisers think that canning the nation’s top investigator wouldn’t be controversial? That the administration didn’t even have a game plan for the day after is derelict. You almost felt sorry for Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the two White House flacks who were thrown on the airwaves at the last minute Tuesday night to defend their boss’s decision.
The Comey affair, however, is deeper than just Comey. This is about how the Trump administration operates more broadly and how Trump makes decisions:
- The White House is terrible at optics and crisis management. For some reason, whether it’s the lack of internal communication, an overworked staff or just a general sense of confusion, the press office is consistently behind the curve. Talking points rarely match up between senior administration officials — and even when they do, they run far afield of common sense.
- President Trump all too often makes big decisions based on emotion. According to reports from the New York Times, the Washington Post and Politico, Trump was livid with James Comey to the point of screaming at the television and venting to his friends about how the FBI director was a grandstander and setting himself up as a martyr. Trump was also mad because Comey was unwilling to do what Trump wanted him to do: confirm that President Barack Obama had engaged in politically motivated espionage during last year’s presidential campaign. Trump wanted Comey gone, and his personal feelings about the matter were so ingrained in his psyche that he didn’t seem to care about the political consequences.
- Either because the White House staff are scared of getting fired or because Trump is viewed as a god, there is nobody in the White House courageous enough to say “no” to the president. Steve Bannon of all people was reportedly concerned about the timing of Comey’s firing, but he obviously didn’t feel strongly enough about the matter to fiercely push back. Trump needs somebody, anybody, who can sit down with him in confidence and argue with him when he’s about to make a bad decision.
Business-as-usual is no longer a luxury for this White House. The entire staff, and the president himself, need to shape up before the administration becomes an even bigger laughingstock than it already is.