Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Trumpy-The-Clown Comedy Hour Returns To Prime Time TV


Republican commentator David Frum was busy on Twitter this weekend: "The White House has a communications problem: it doesn’t tell the truth. The way to fix the problem is not to hire more skillful liars. However, a communications strategy based on telling the truth is not practical when the truth is more lethal even than an exposed lie." According to the latest polling about two-thirds of Americans don't believe Trump's gaslighting or any of his bullshit. His spokespeople, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and that sociopathic daughter of Mike Huckabee's, are all laughing stocks who are widely considered entertainment figures, not sources of worthwhile information. After just 4 months in the White House Trump is talking about going dark. He told Fox's fake TV judge that he thinks it's a "good idea" to not have press conferences, unless he does them himself every two weeks.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that Trump is mistrustful of his staff, frustrated and increasingly isolated. He sounds like Nixon weeks before he was forced to resign. Trump doesn't trust anyone but Ivanka and her moron husband plus Uday and Qusay and his longtime bodyguard. Julie Pace explained that just 4 months in and Señor Trumpanzee "has become distrustful of some of his White House staff, heavily reliant on a handful of family members and longtime aides, and furious that the White House’s attempts to quell the firestorm over the FBI and congressional Russia investigations only seem to add more fuel." It all came to a head this week when he went rogue and fired Comey without any kind of White House consensus-- or preparation. His communications staffers found out an hour before they had to try to justify the outlandish move and his chief strategist found out the same way Comey did-- on a random TV screen.
When the White House’s defense of the move failed to meet his ever-changing expectations, Trump tried to take over himself. But he wound up creating new headaches for the White House, including with an apparent threat to Comey.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

For a White House accustomed to bouts of chaos, Trump’s handling of Comey’s firing could have serious and long-lasting implications. Already Trump’s decision appears to have emboldened the Senate intelligence committee investigating into Russia’s election interference and the president’s associates, with lawmakers announcing a subpoena for former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey’s allies also quickly made clear they would defend him against attacks from Trump, including disputing the president’s assertion that Comey told Trump he was not personally under investigation.

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. Schiller was among those Trump consulted about Comey and was tapped by the president to deliver a letter informing the director of his firing.

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.

Trump spent most of the week out of sight, a marked change from a typically jam-packed schedule that often includes multiple on-camera events per day. Even when aides moved ahead on an executive order creating a voter fraud commission-- a presidential pet project that some advisers thought they had successfully shelved-- Trump signed the directive in private.

More than a lack of momentum on major policy goals, Trump is said to be seething over the flood of leaks pouring out of the White House and into news reports. He’s viewed even senior advisers suspiciously, including Bannon and Priebus, when stories about internal White House drama land in the press.

A dozen White House officials and others close to Trump detailed the president’s decision-making and his mood on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations and deliberations.

After Trump decided to fire Comey, he was told by aides that Democrats would likely react positively to the news given the role many believe Comey played in Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. When the opposite occurred, Trump grew incensed-- both at Democrats and his own communications staff for not quickly lining up more Republicans to defend him on television.

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. By week’s end, he was musing about cutting back on the White House’s televised press briefings.

Two White House officials said some of Trump’s frustration centers on what he views as unfair coverage of his decisions and overly harsh criticism of press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, who led much of the response to Comey’s firing. Aides said Trump does not believe his team gave contradictory stories about his decision to fire Comey, despite the fact that the White House’s explanation changed dramatically over a 48-hour period.

Trump is mulling expanding the communications team and has eyed hiring producers from Fox News, according to one White House official.

White House officials had hoped last week’s House vote would give the president a much-needed burst of momentum and infuse new energy into efforts to fully overhaul the “Obamacare” health law and pass a massive tax reform package. Aides were also eager for Trump’s first foreign trip, a high-stakes blitz through the Middle East and Europe.

But the blowback from Comey’s firing left the White House reeling once again. Trump’s visible anger and erratic tweets prompted a reporter to ask Spicer on Friday if the president was “out of control.”

“That’s, frankly, offensive,” Spicer said.
As NY Times ace reporters on the Trump beat explained over the weekend, working for Trump always means looking like a liar or a fool. I've also mentioned that eventually it will make them all (look like) traitors to the United States. Señor Trumpanzee, they wrote, "has never shown any reluctance to sacrifice a surrogate to serve a short-term political need, so he apparently did not think twice this week about exposing a series of staff members to ridicule as he repeatedly shifted his explanation for firing James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director... [He's] more in need of effective spokesmen than ever, and aides say he is considering a broad shake-up of his team. But his career-long habit of viewing his public protectors as somewhat disposable, on vivid display after Mr. Comey’s sudden ouster, has not exactly been an incentive to step into the firing line on his behalf." Certainly Giuliani, Lewandowski and Christie could all attest to the fact that loyalty for Trump is a strictly one-way street.
“Trump is putting a lot on the backs of his spokespeople, while simultaneously cutting their legs out from underneath them,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and a former adviser to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “There is nothing more discouraging or embarrassing for a spokesman than to have your boss contradict you. In political communications, you’re only as good as your credibility.”

The view that the communications dysfunction begins at the top of the White House organizational chart is bipartisan.

“The most hazardous duty in Washington these days is that of Trump surrogate because the president constantly undercuts the statements of his own people,” said David Axelrod, a communications and messaging adviser to President Barack Obama.

“You wind up looking like a liar or a fool, neither of which is particularly attractive.”

...[T]he president’s mood, according to people close to him, alternates between grim frustration with Washington and his news coverage, and a belief that his own political capital is regenerative. Mr. Trump saw that running against strong headwinds in the campaign worked for him, and he has frequently reverted to that playbook.

On Friday, Mr. Trump unleashed a barrage of bellicose Twitter posts on the Comey firing, but the first had a whisper of contrition, a backhanded admission that he had sent his team out to defend him with flawed, inaccurate and easily debunked information.

“As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” he wrote early Friday.

In private, however, Mr. Trump was not in a mea culpa mood. He was still raging over what he viewed as Mr. Comey’s “witch hunt” against him-- and blaming the bipartisan condemnation of his action on the failures of his embattled and overworked communications team.

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.

Mr. Spicer’s blustery style mimics Mr. Trump’s, but people close to both men said he has not developed an especially close relationship with the president and has failed to use the self-protective tools that savvier Trump aides have adopted.

That seems to be changing. On Friday, Mr. Spicer prefaced much of what he said at the daily briefing with, “The president’s statement.” 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.

Those who have managed to stay in Mr. Trump’s orbit over a period of time have developed unique adaptation skills.

Campaign aides learned not to lean too much on his accounts of events, steering away from unequivocal public pronouncements unless they could point to his words.

Mr. Trump’s four-decade career in real estate, casinos and entertainment has given him a sense, associates say, that a tacit agreement exists between him and the people who work for him: In exchange for the wealth, fame and power he conveys to them, they agree to absorb incoming fire directed at him.

“With Mr. Trump, it’s pretty simple: Once he makes up his mind on something, that’s it,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump political adviser who remains close to the president’s team.

“You either work for him” or quit, Mr. Nunberg added.
Or hide under the bed... or in the bushes.

This morning, Mike Allen asserted at Axios that Trump is angry at everyone on Team Trump and mulling a shake-up in an upcoming episode. The idea would include going the boot to Reince Priebus, Bannon, Don McGahn and Spicy Spice.
"The advice he's getting is to go big-- that he has nothing to lose," the confidant said. "The question now is how big and how bold. I'm not sure he knows the answer to that yet."

If Trump follows through, his innermost White House circle would shrink from a loop to a straight line of mid-30s family members with scant governing experience: Jared and Ivanka. So while the fighting and leaking might ease, the problems may not because it's the president, not the staff, calling the shots.

One note of caution: Trump often talks about firing people when things go south and does not follow through on it. So it's possible these conversations are his way of venting, and seeking reassurance.

And it all could take a while: Trump heads out on his first international trip at the end of the week. Also, there's an internal argument for minimizing drama by cutting people out of the information flow rather than firing them. So the existing structure may get "one more college try," a trusted adviser said.

Friends say that if Trump goes with a grand shakeup, his implicit message would be: "I get it. I'm moving on. I get that I can do a better job." A top aide added: "He's never going to say he did a bad job."

The sources say Trump feels ill-served by not just his staff but also by several of his Cabinet officials. Trump has two complaints about Cabinet members: Either they're tooting their own horns too much, or they're insufficiently effusive in praising him as a brilliant diplomat, etc. Among the cross-currents:
His friend Wilbur Ross at Commerce this week took what was perceived as a victory lap on a China trade announcement that does little new in actuality.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a big announcement about increasing prison sentences, at the same time that Jared is working on criminal-justice reform.
HHS Secretary Tom Price shares the blame for the glacial pace of health-care legislation.
No Cabinet member is expected to go this soon, but a West Wing shuffle looks likely. One obstacle to recruiting new top aides is finding people who would have real clout with a president not prone to enforced order.

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At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When all the dust has settled from this, I hope that it will be remembered that Melissa McCarthy just blew a hole in comedy. Or tragi-comedy. And that's what it's for.


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