Rosemary Westwood: It is Trump who sets the agenda of upheaval
That Trump’s staff don’t know what he’s going to say, that he does what he likes despite contrary advice has been a pattern of his presidency.
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In 1986, Ronald Reagan — the Republican president to which Donald Trump best prefers comparison — told Fortune magazine his vision of a good leader.
“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out,'' he reportedly said.
It’s safe to say Trump’s style drastically differs.
Take this week. A flurry of back-and-forth dealings with staff inside the White House Thursday morning ended when Trump announced trade tariffs on steel and aluminum so new, senior staff told journalists the policy wasn’t ready.
That was after changing winds had swept Washington as sources first told journalists to expect the news, then quashed that and said there’d only be a “listening” session with industry leaders, a tempest captured by Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey’s mid-morning tweet: “White House person who is often understated about drama in the building just texted me to say things were wild, changing by seemingly the minute and that no one knows what Trump is going to announce on a number of issues.”
This — that Trump’s staff don’t know what he’s going to say, that he does what he likes despite contrary advice — has been a pattern of his presidency, and suggests a disinterest in delegation (he’s claimed that on foreign policy “my primary consultant is myself”).
Trump is also well-known for intervening and quashing GOP efforts to pass legislation, most prominently on a bipartisan bill for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers.
As for finding the best possible people, the unusually high turnover among Trump’s high-level White House staff suggests a struggle there, too. Three Trump campaign and White House officials pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Russia probe. Another — Paul Manafort, former campaign chair — has been indicted on conspiracy, money laundering, false statements, and failure to disclose foreign assets. Staff also routinely and anonymously maligned one another to reporters.
The upshot has been another week of sizzling palace intrigue: Hope Hicks is resigning as communications director, a move announced Wednesday that leaves Trump without the woman known as one of his most trusted aides, and one that comes after her appearance before the House Intelligence Committee this week.
Trump is again lashing out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he reportedly views as insufficiently loyal, calling him “DISGRACEFUL” on Twitter over Sessions’s investigation into the FBI’s investigation into a Trump campaign official’s connections to Russia.
Chief of staff General John Kelly joked his White House job was a punishment from God at a Thursday Homeland Security event, and around the same time, former communications director Anthony Scaramucci seemingly urged Trump to fire Kelly via an interview with Bloomberg News reported Jennifer Jacobs, calling him “General Jackass.”
Meanwhile, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and advisor, was not approved for a top-secret security clearance, leading to questions about whether he can perform his job.
All this while Trump is tossing out — and then walking back — a variety of possible gun control measures that will conflict with NRA doctrine and likely anger his base in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school. (Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager, told Fox News Trump was simply “leading the nation in a conversation.”)
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders routinely berrates the press for focusing not on White House policy, but White House turmoil. Yet it truly is Trump — quipped by one reporter to be his one and only true communications director — who sets the agenda of upheaval. One can hardly be faulted for following the president’s lead.