The purge of top US administration officials seen as not loyal enough to the president continues with the exit of Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus. But Trump is now wading into dangerous territory.
One week after the resignation of Donald Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer and the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as the president’s chief communicator, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is also out the door. Priebus’ exit caps an extraordinarily tumultuous week, even by this administration’s standards.
Two other embattled officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon have survived the week, but it is unclear for how long. Both Sessions, who has been savaged on Twitter by Trump for his recusal from the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Bannon, who was insulted by Scaramucci, are portrayed as not loyal enough to the president by Trump himself and by the new key player in the White House, Scaramucci.
The meteoric rise of Scaramucci, who predicted the exit of Priebus in his now infamous conversation with New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, is further evidenced by the fact that he apparently will not report to Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, as is customary, but to the president directly.
Gamble with Kelly
To appoint Kelly, the former Homeland Security secretary, as his chief of staff, is a huge gamble, but in keeping with Trump’s style. Kelly, a former military commander, lacks political experience and has not been shy about displaying his disdain for political games. It is risky to task Kelly with whipping a dysfunctional White House mired in toxic internal feuds into shape.
But perhaps that is not even what Trump, who seems to thrive on constant upheaval, wants. Maybe Trump does not really want an experienced manager to structure and run the White House professionally, because a strong chief of staff by definition wields a lot of power, which might undercut the president’s outsized view of himself as the unrivalled decision-maker.
The president’s much bigger gamble, however, is severing the already frayed ties with the Republican Party. Spicer and Priebus, both creatures of the GOP, played a key role in trying to align Trump’s agenda with Congressional Republicans.
That this did not work well was evident, but to blame only them and Congressional Republicans, as Trump has done, is wrong. Instead, in the White House, as in many dysfunctional organizations, problems often emanate from the top.
But that is not something the president appears willing to admit – now or ever. The ouster of Spicer and Priebus, especially in such a distasteful manner, might give even generally supportive Republicans in Congress and elsewhere pause.
Focus on Sessions and Mueller
Lately some Republicans, who until now have remained mostly mum about the president’s behavior, have come out to defend Attorney General Sessions against the president’s attacks and made preparations aimed at making it impossible for him to oust Sessions and name a replacement during the congressional recess.
Firing Sessions or special counsel Robert Mueller – a move that has reportedly been considered by Trump and that would effectively end the Russia probe that has been vexing him – could be one step too far even for this president.
In pushing out Spicer and Priebus and installing his alter ego Scaramucci, Trump has shown that what he really desires is an administration of yes-men and yes-women. By ordinary standards, Spicer and Priebus have been far too loyal to Trump for far too long – to their own detriment.
GOP and Trump
But Trump’s distorted view of loyalty essentially means fealty and can come only from family and people who are close to him personally. Such a definition of loyalty is ultimately impossible to reconcile with an administration governed by laws rather than personal bonds.
Congressional Republicans have so far been unwilling to acknowledge this aspect of the Trump presidency, partly because many still feel that Trump may help push their own agenda. The ouster of Spicer and Priebus and the rise of Scaramucci is another clear sign that Trump does not care at all about individual lawmakers or the Republican Party at large.
While that is not enough for the GOP to cut Trump loose, pushing out Sessions or Mueller may do the trick. If that happens, it could indeed mark a turning point for the Trump presidency.
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