Imagine the dilemma. A man who famously seems to trust only his closest family members becomes president and installs them as key aides. But it doesn’t work out. They’re bogged down in investigations, accused of shady financial dealings, mocked as unqualified for the positions they hold. They start losing friends in their old liberal circles. They can’t stay in the White House but they can’t really go home either. The president can’t keep them around, observing their misery, imperiled by their personal baggage, but he can’t fire them.
This is a Very Special Episode of “The Apprentice: White House” indeed.
Javaka could spare Trump the agony of having to push them out by quitting and retiring to a beachside mansion somewhere, at least until Mueller comes calling for Kushner, but for some reason they seem determined to stay. If you were POTUS, what would you do?
Yet Mr. Trump is also frustrated with Mr. Kushner, whom he now views as a liability because of his legal entanglements, the investigations of the Kushner family’s real estate company and the publicity over having his security clearance downgraded, according to two people familiar with his views. In private conversations, the president vacillates between sounding regretful that Mr. Kushner is taking arrows and annoyed that he is another problem to deal with.
Privately, some aides have expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, have remained at the White House, despite Mr. Trump at times saying they never should have come to the White House and should leave. Yet aides also noted that Mr. Trump has told the couple that they should keep serving in their roles, even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.
That sounds like an extreme example of Trump’s habit of telling whoever’s in the room with him at a given moment what they want to hear. Naturally he’d reassure Jared and Ivanka that he wants them around. Privately, he might tell Kushner nemesis John Kelly that he has full authority to solve POTUS’s Javanka problem for him the hard way if he chooses. For what it’s worth, WaPo’s sources are also whispering that Trump might not be opposed to Jared’s and Ivanka’s departure: “[H]e also mused this week that everything might be better for them if they simply gave up their government jobs and returned to New York, according to a White House official who has discussed it with him.” That jibes with a Vanity Fair report in November claiming that Trump had taken to reminding the couple “of what a nice life they had in New York, before they were ‘getting killed’ by the press in D.C.” If they go home to Manhattan now, though, they’ll be strangers in a strange land, the Trump scions in a crowd of wealthy liberals who’ve come to despise him, and them. They can go back, but it’ll never be the same.
I wonder how often POTUS looks back on life before the presidency and thinks how much better he had it then. He could do friendly media hits and celebrity events whenever he wanted, he could dally with other women with minimal interest from the tabloids, his kids could make bundles of money and hobnob with elites every night. Now he’s stuck in a room with John Kelly, surrounded by strangers in the White House, his every pronouncement lately drawing intense heat from both the left and right. Every time he turns on the news there’s some new shady business involving Kushner that the media’s sniffing around; this morning it was the unhappy coincidence of Jared supporting Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Qatar just a few weeks after the Qatari government declined to invest in a property owned by his family’s firm. Bad enough for Trump that Jared would get beaten up but there’s also a report out that the FBI is looking at a Trump Organization deal in Canada that was spearheaded by Ivanka. Media reports of POTUS being in a foul mood or feeling “isolated” are nothing new but the undertone of desperation this week, with Javanka under the microscope and Hope Hicks bailing out, has been notable. This piece from Gloria Borger is representative:
One source — who is a presidential ally — is worried, really worried. The source says this past week is “different,” that advisers are scared the President is spiraling, lashing out, just out of control. For example: Demanding to hold a public session where he made promises on trade tariffs before his staff was ready, not to mention willing. “This has real economic impact,” says the source, as the Dow dropped 420 points after the President’s news Thursday. “Something is very wrong.”…
“Morale is as bad as it’s ever been,” says another source familiar with the situation inside the White House, echoing the comments of Anthony Scaramucci in a CNN interview Thursday. What’s more, the source lamented, “The good people are being driven crazy.”…
Multiple sources report an increasingly isolated Trump: cordoned off from old friends by Kelly, getting the cold shoulder from wife Melania (after Stormy Daniels and friends), increasing friction with his daughter and son-in-law over clearance, and home alone without longtime bodyguard/friend Keith Schiller and Hicks. His economic team is split over tariffs; his national security adviser, according to reports, will be replaced soon. No doubt the exodus will continue.
“Isolated and angry” is also how the Times described Trump yesterday. BuzzFeed reported on sinking morale a few days ago. The AFP’s White House correspondent claimed that Trump “has never been more isolated” and that these are “Dangerous times for the presidency,” a sentiment echoed by Times correspondent Maggie Haberman. Virtually every report mentions the deep impact Hope Hicks’s resignation will have on him (no doubt people inside and outside the White House are pleading with her to reconsider, or at least stay on in some other role), but if it’s that hard to lose Hicks, imagine how much harder it’d be for Trump to lose Jared and Ivanka. That’s why it’s difficult to believe he’s leaning on Kelly to usher them towards the door, even if only for their own sakes. Who’ll be left once they’re gone? What will that do to Trump’s mood?