The White House, January 2017
The White House, January 2017 Credit: Joshua Alvarez

As if the presidency were an episode of The Apprentice, leaks indicate that Trump is gathering the participants into the board room in a move that will likely end with the words, “you’re fired.” The only question remaining is, who gets the ax? Under consideration are Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus.

As many are noting, when the president was first asked about the story that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had talked to the Russian ambassador about the possibility of relaxing sanctions on his country, Trump initially said he hadn’t heard about the story. It was a way for him to dodge showing support for Flynn. Then yesterday Steven Miller skirted the question by saying it was not his place to weigh in on a sensitive matter. It’s hard to tell where things will go. But the decision about Flynn is likely mired in whether or not the Trump administration coordinated efforts with Russia to influence the election and what an erratic person like Flynn knows about that.

Ever since Day One of the administration, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, has been scrutinized. Apparently Trump has been pretty open with his critiques of Spicer, although that has been placed on the back burner while they try to hire a Communications Director.

Most interesting were the rumors over the weekend that Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, might be the one to go. Much of that was fueled by remarks made by Christopher Ruddy after talking privately with the president on Friday.

Ruddy went on to detail his critique of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus: “It’s my view that Reince is the problem. I think on paper Reince looked good as the chief of staff — and Donald trusted him — but it’s pretty clear the guy is in way over his head. He’s not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout. This should’ve been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity.”

Ruddy tried to walk that back a bit on twitter yesterday, but the damage has been done.

While none of these three men have demonstrated any integrity or competence over these last few weeks, what is even more telling in this staff drama are the people Trump is not targeting.

Given that the president seems to be the most concerned about the botched rollout of the travel ban, it is interesting to note that he doesn’t hold the person most responsible for that mess accountable. Steve Bannon helped write it and is the one who created a lot of the confusion with his insistence that it include those with green cards—a battle he eventually lost, but played a crucial role in the 9th Circuit’s decision. Apparently there are some things that are more important to Trump than competence.

“These people [nervous White House staff] are insecure because Trump does not respect them,” said a person in constant contact with the West Wing. “He does not because they have not made any money. He respects [Steve] Bannon and Gary Cohn because they are financially successful.”

Despite (or perhaps, because of) getting bushels of Pinocchios for his lies on the Sunday morning talk show circuit yesterday, it looks like Stephen Miller has a lot of job security.

Finally, Kellyanne Conway’s obvious crossing of ethical lines in promoting Ivanka’s clothing line seems to have raised her standing with the president, rather than call it into question.

Generally speaking, Trump seems to enjoy pitting his staff against one another.

Those who don’t fear for their hide are busy gaming out how they rise when someone falls. Trump feeds all of this. It’s why an insider describes the White House hierarchy as “fragile.”

What we can also learn is that those who will win this game he’s playing with staff are the ones he respects because they (1) have made a lot of money, (2) are willing to lie endlessly on his behalf, and/or (3) are willing to cross ethical lines out of loyalty to him and his family. Competence to actually do their job and commitment to serving the country are not part of the equation.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!