Stop us if you’ve heard this before. In fact, White House correspondent Major Garrett has heard this almost since Inauguration Day — that Donald Trump has grown unhappy with the performance of his executive team, and that big changes are coming. “This time,” Garrett tells CBS’ This Morning, “it does seem more real.” It may not be immediate, however:
The president's frustrations about the direction of his administration are real and he's considering staff shake ups. pic.twitter.com/O2NDxJTzil
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 15, 2017
Axios’ Mike Allen reported yesterday that a “huge reboot” is on the way at the White House:
At the urging of longtime friends and outside advisers, most of whom he consults after dark, President Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and press secretary Sean Spicer, White House sources tell me.
Trump is also irritated with several Cabinet members, the sources said.
“He’s frustrated, and angry at everyone,” said one of the confidants.
Most of the focus in the media has been on Sean Spicer, although the press briefings this week during the Comey “crisis” were handled mainly by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Is the problem Spicer, or is it Mike Dubke, whom Trump brought in to craft a more strategic communications effort? It’s probably neither, at least in this instance, although to say that the White House comms team struggled over the past seven days is to engage in comic understatement.
The problem seems to be a much higher pay grade, at least when it comes to Comey’s firing. The reporting makes it clear that the decision was announced with little time for strategic communications planning, leaving Spicer and Sanders to flail as Trump’s explanations kept shifting around. Under those circumstances, even the best strategic planning won’t have any impact, and mistakes will get made when everyone’s kept in the dark about the president’s next moves. Still, that doesn’t fully excuse the stumbles last week, such as when Spicer avoided reporters rather than answer questions, or Sanders’ accusation that Comey had committed political “atrocities” as FBI director.
However, presidents don’t quit or get fired, so any changes to come will fall elsewhere. The comms people are usually the first to go in a shake-up, so if it finally comes, Spicer and Sanders will likely be the first without seats when the music stops. Rumor has it that the White House is looking at Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle as a potential press secretary, which wouldn’t be a bad idea. There is a reason why presidents pick people from the media to serve in that position; it’s an ambassadorial role, in its way, and it helps when the press secretary has credibility with reporters based on shared experience. This White House started off with a combative approach to its communications strategy, and forced Spicer into several early incidents of defending the indefensible, such as the turnout for the inauguration. They could do better by taking a less combative approach with a press secretary who comes in with some built-in credibility.
However, that will only last for a while if the White House doesn’t coordinate its efforts better. That’s not the fault of Spicer, Sanders, Dubke, or Priebus, but the man who makes all the decisions from the Oval Office. Guilfoyle, or whoever else takes that position (assuming it opens up at all), had better know that chaos is likely to continue and prepare for the unexpected. A lot.