“He made it clear and known that Sean [Spicer] had failed him,” one source who’s spoken to Trump recently told the Daily Beast about this week’s Comey clusterfark. How many more stories can Spicer read about Trump looking to replace him before his dignity suffers a mortal wound and he says “you can’t fire me, I quit”?
Mr. Trump is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; the communications director, Michael Dubke; and Mr. Spicer, a Priebus ally, according to a half-dozen West Wing officials who said the president was considering the most far-reaching shake-up of his already tumultuous term.
He has been especially critical of Mr. Spicer, they said, openly musing about replacing him and telling people in his circle that he kept his own press secretary out of the loop in dismissing Mr. Comey until the last possible moment because he feared that the communications staff would leak the news…
And while Mr. Trump has raised the Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle to allies as a possible press secretary, he has spent several hours with Mr. Spicer this week, praising his television “ratings” during the briefings.
Major outlets like the Times, the AP, CNN, and the Journal are blaring today that a “shake-up” in the White House comms team is coming with Spicer supposedly on the thinnest ice. Why should he wait and give Trump the satisfaction of dumping him from a job that’s been completely thankless? Since day one, the boss has belittled him in ways big and small, from critiquing his dress as shabby to making him give that weird, angry briefing about the size of the inauguration crowd in his first appearance as press secretary to undermining him lately by chattering to aides about Guilfoyle and how much he likes Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And on top of all the petty indignities, every time Spicer finishes putting out one political brushfire, Trump’s back on Twitter playing with matches again. He’s a firefighter working for a pyromaniac. At some point the paycheck just isn’t worth it.
The worst part is that no one, including Trump fans as prominent as Newt Gingrich, thinks the ultimate blame for the White House’s messaging problems lies with Spicer or his staff. It’s all Trump. (Almost. Spicer’s bizarre camera-shyness beside the White House bushes last week was all on him.) Gingrich told the Times that Trump is like a quarterback getting out in front of his offensive line, taking the snap before the rest of the team is even set. Trump himself acknowledged that problem in his interview with Jeanine Pirro yesterday, although he seems to think it’s the comms team’s fault for not keeping up with him. The truth is that they can’t keep up with him because, amid all the Twitter arson he’s guilty of, he’s kept them out of the loop on major decisions like the Comey firing, then grossly contradicted them after they’ve developed a message in his defense. Even Mike Pence was reportedly “rattled” after Trump undercut him on Rod Rosenstein’s role in the Comey firing. (“It’s not that we don’t know what the president wants to say,” said one staffer to the Beast, “it’s that the president doesn’t know what the president wants to say.”) The AP claims Spicer and his staff had all of one hour’s notice before the axe fell on Comey. More amazingly, Steve Bannon supposedly didn’t know the decision had been made until (like Jim Comey himself) he saw it on TV, although Bannon’s allies naturally dispute that:
Several people close to the president say his reliance on a small cadre of advisers as he mulled firing Comey reflects his broader distrust of many of his own staffers. He leans heavily on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Hope Hicks, his trusted campaign spokeswoman and Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard…
Trump confidants say Bannon has been marginalized on major decisions, including Comey’s firing, after clashing with Kushner. And while Trump praised chief of staff Reince Priebus after the House passed a health care bill last week, associates say the president has continued to raise occasional questions about Priebus’ leadership in the West Wing. Still, Priebus was among the tight circle of staffers Trump consulted about Comey’s firing…
Much of Trump’s ire has been focused on the communications team, all of whom were caught off guard by Comey’s ouster. He increasingly sees himself as the White House’s only effective spokesperson, according to multiple people who have spoken with him.
We’re on Day 114 and he already sounds a bit like Nixon 1974, paranoid about his own advisors’ loyalty and down to family and near-family in terms of whom he’s willing to trust. Which may explain why, per the AP, he’s reportedly “eyed hiring producers from Fox News” and, according to the Journal, one of his aides “has been reaching out to supportive cable TV surrogates to gauge their interest in joining the staff.” (Presumably that’s a reference to Guilfoyle, but what about Hannity?) Feeling beset on all sides, crippled by the perceived incompetence of his communications team, and distrustful of people like Priebus and Bannon who only became strong allies during the campaign, he’s reaching back to his pre-candidate days to find loyalty — Ivanka, Jared, Hicks, Schiller, and of course his friends at Fox News, the most doggedly Trump-loyal outlet on television. Many of their opinion hosts operate as de facto state media for the president. No wonder that, unhappy with his own staff, he’d reach out to people there to become his actual state media in the White House press shop.
Trump has supposedly tried to boost his staff’s morale in meetings this week amid the chaos but not everyone feels comforted. Exit quotation from an unnamed staffer to the president: “Do you think we’re liars?”