[Marxism] Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 6 07:37:09 MST 2017


NY Times, Feb. 6 2017
Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles
By GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN

WASHINGTON — President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, 
but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night.

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate 
the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings 
and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads 
to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s 
provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 
16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs 
to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With 
his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is 
almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his 
imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When 
Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone 
reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set 
off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider 
president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a 
half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the 
workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at 
home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to 
fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders.

“We are moving big and we are moving fast,” Mr. Bannon said, when asked 
about the upheaval of the first two weeks. “We didn’t come here to do 
small things.”

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: 
When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven 
predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and 
embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable 
first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his 
top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that 
mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and 
Trump insiders said.

This account of the early days of the Trump White House is based on 
interviews with dozens of government officials, congressional aides, 
former staff members and other observers of the new administration, many 
of whom requested anonymity. At the center of the story, according to 
these sources, is a president determined to go big but increasingly 
frustrated by the efforts of his small team to contain the backlash.

“What are we going to do about this?” Mr. Trump pointedly asked an aide 
last week, a period of turmoil briefly interrupted by the successful 
rollout of his Supreme Court selection, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of 
the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is 
going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, 
then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

“I personally think that they’re missing the big picture here,” Mr. 
Ruddy said of Mr. Trump’s staff. “Now he’s so caught up, the 
administration is so caught up in turmoil, perceived chaos, that the 
Democrats smell blood, the protesters, the media smell blood.”

One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two 
weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches 
without any plan for a longer war.

Clashes among staff are common in the opening days of every 
administration, but they have seldom been so public and so pronounced 
this early. “This is a president who came to Washington vowing to shake 
up the establishment, and this is what it looks like. It’s going to be a 
little sloppy, there are going to be conflicts,” said Ari Fleischer, 
President George W. Bush’s first press secretary.

All this is happening as Mr. Trump, a man of flexible ideology but fixed 
habits, adjusts to a new job, life and city.

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and 
supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels 
increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant 
presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a 
planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening 
outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much 
in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of 
critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers 
that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. 
“Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said 
mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week 
during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad 
headlines.

Mr. Trump got away from the White House this weekend for the first time 
since his inauguration, spending it in Palm Beach, Fla., at his private 
club, Mar-a-Lago, posting Twitter messages angrily — and in personal 
terms — about the federal judge who put a nationwide halt on the travel 
ban. Mr. Bannon and Reince Priebus, the two clashing power centers, 
traveled with him.

By then, the president, for whom chains of command and policy minutiae 
rarely meant much, was demanding that Mr. Priebus begin to put in effect 
a much more conventional White House protocol that had been taken for 
granted in previous administrations: From now on, Mr. Trump would be 
looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.

Another change will be a new set of checks on the previously unfettered 
power enjoyed by Mr. Bannon and the White House policy director, Stephen 
Miller, who oversees the implementation of the orders and who received 
the brunt of the internal and public criticism for the rollout of the 
travel ban.

Mr. Priebus has told Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon that the administration 
needs to rethink its policy and communications operation in the wake of 
embarrassing revelations that key details of the orders were withheld 
from agencies, White House staff and Republican congressional leaders 
like Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Mr. Priebus has also created a 10-point checklist for the release of any 
new initiatives that includes signoff from the communications department 
and the White House staff secretary, Robert Porter, according to several 
aides familiar with the process.

Mr. Priebus bristles at the perception that he occupies a diminished 
perch in the West Wing pecking order compared with previous chiefs. But 
for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, 
despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of 
the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the 
National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the 
president than the fallout from the travel ban.

It is partly because he is seen as having a clear vision on policy. But 
it is also because others who had been expected to fill major roles have 
been less confident in asserting their power.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, occupies a central role in the 
administration and has been present at most major decisions and photo 
ops, but he is a father of young children who has taken to life in 
Washington, and, along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, has already been 
spotted at events around town.

Mr. Bannon has rushed into the vacuum, telling allies that he and Mr. 
Miller have a brief window in which to push through their vision of Mr. 
Trump’s economic nationalism.

Mr. Bannon, whose website, Breitbart, was a magnet for white 
nationalists and xenophobic speech, has also tried to reassure official 
Washington. He has been careful to build bridges with the Republican 
establishment, especially Mr. Ryan — whom he once described as “the 
enemy” and vowed to force out. He now talks regularly with Mr. Ryan to 
coordinate strategy or plot their planned overhaul of the tax code.

Before he was ousted in November as transition chief, Gov. Chris 
Christie of New Jersey, the Trump adviser with the most government 
experience, helped prepare a detailed staffing and implementation plan 
in line with the kickoff strategies of previous Republican presidents.

It was discarded — a senior Trump aide made a show of tossing it into a 
garbage can — for a strategy that prioritized the daily release of 
dramatic executive orders to put opponents on the defensive.

Mr. Christie, who agrees in principle with the broad strokes of Mr. 
Trump’s immigration policy, says the president has been let down by his 
staff.

“The president deserves better than the rollout he got on the 
immigration executive order,” Mr. Christie said. “The fact is that he’s 
put forward a policy that, in my opinion, is significantly more 
effective than what he had proposed during the campaign, yet because of 
the botched implementation, they allowed his opponents to attack him by 
calling it a Muslim ban.”

In the past few days, Mr. Trump’s team has stressed its cohesion and the 
challenges of jump-starting an administration that few outside its group 
ever thought would exist.

“This team spent months in the foxhole together during the campaign,” 
said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. “We moved into the 
White House as a unified team committed to enacting the president’s agenda.”

As part of Mr. Trump’s Oval Office renovation, he ordered that four 
hardback chairs be placed in a semicircle around his Resolute Desk now 
heaped, in Trump Tower fashion, with memos and newspapers. They are an 
emblem of Mr. Trump’s in-your-face management style, but also a reminder 
that in the White House, the seats always outlast the people seated in them.

But finding enough skilled players to fill key slots has not been easy: 
Mr. Spicer is serving double duty as communications director, a key 
planning position, in addition to engaging in day-to-day combat with the 
news media. Mr. Trump, several aides said, is used to quarterbacking his 
own media strategy, and did not see the value of hiring an outsider.

An early plan was to give the communications job to Kellyanne Conway, 
his former campaign manager and top TV surrogate, but the demands of the 
job would have conflicted with Ms. Conway’s other duties as a free-range 
adviser to Mr. Trump with Oval Office walk-in privileges, according to 
one aide.

Mr. Trump remains intensely focused on his brand, but the demands of the 
job mean he spends less time monitoring the news media — although he 
recently upgraded the flat-screen TV in his private dining room so he 
can watch the news while eating lunch.

He often has to wait until the end of the workday before grinding 
through news clips with Mr. Spicer, marking the ones he does not like 
with a big arrow in black Sharpie — though he almost always makes time 
to monitor Mr. Spicer’s performance at the daily briefings, summoning 
him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said.

Visitors to the Oval Office say Mr. Trump is obsessed with the décor — 
it is both a totem of a victory that validates him as a serious person 
and an image-burnishing backdrop — so he has told his staff to schedule 
as many televised events in the room as possible.

To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to 
visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially 
expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

Flanking his desk are portraits of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and 
Andrew Jackson. He will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden 
drapes, which he told a recent visitor were once used by Franklin D. 
Roosevelt but in fact were patterned for Bill Clinton. For a man who 
sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was 
delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering 
options.

Ultimately, this is very much the White House that Mr. Trump wanted to 
build. But while the world reckons with the effect he is having on the 
presidency, he is adjusting to the effect of the presidency on him. He 
is now a public employee. And the only boss Mr. Trump ever had in his 
life was his father, a hard-driving developer the president still treats 
with deep reverence.

With most of his belongings in New York, the only family picture on the 
shelf behind Mr. Trump’s desk is a small black-and-white photograph of 
that boss, Frederick Christ Trump.



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