A look at the President’s Chief of Staff and the minions that try to keep the big guy happy and from blowing up….
As the nation confronts a once-in-a-century health crisis that has killed at least 158,000 people, infected nearly 5 million and devastated the economy, the atmosphere in the White House is as chaotic as at any other time in Trump’s presidency — “an unmitigated disaster,” in the words of a second former senior administration official.
In the weeks ahead, the administration plans to draw more attention to the push to develop and test a coronavirus vaccine, and to the government’s plan for mass distribution, together dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.” Aware that the public could view this as a politicized effort ahead of the November election, the administration plans to use public health professionals to promote the vaccine project and to limit the president’s personal involvement in the promotional campaign so it is not viewed as a “Trump vaccine,” according to a senior White House official.
Trump’s new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, has argued that Trump and campaign surrogates should talk more forcefully about the virus to help reverse the president’s downward polling trend, according to a campaign official….
In Trump’s White House, there is little process that guides decision-making on the pandemic. The president has been focused first and foremost on his reelection chances and reacting to the daily or hourly news cycle as opposed to making long-term strategy, with Meadows and other senior aides indulging his impulses rather than striving to impose discipline.
“Trump likes knocking down dominoes, and there’s nobody left to stop the cascade of dominoes,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House communications director who has become a Trump critic but remains close to some of Trump’s aides. “He sits in the Oval Office and says, ‘Do this,’ or, ‘Do that,’ and there was always a domino blocker. It was John Bolton or H.R. McMaster on national security or John Kelly. Now there are no domino blockers.”
What’s more, with polls showing Trump’s popularity on the decline and widespread disapproval of his management of the viral outbreak, staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop for the boss. They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great — even historically excellent — job fighting the virus.
When “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace told the president during a recent interview that his claim that the United States had one of the lowest coronavirus mortality rates in the world was “not true,” Trump grew agitated and called for White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to hand him one of his charts.
“Kayleigh’s right here,” Trump told Wallace. “I heard we have one of the lowest, maybe the lowest mortality rate anywhere in the world.”
A senior administration official involved in the pandemic response said, “Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day. You’re not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle….
What also has frustrated a number of the president’s allies and former aides is that he simply seems uninterested in asserting full leadership over the crisis, instead deferring to state leaders to make the more difficult decisions while using his presidential bully pulpit to critique their performances. He deputizes Pence to handle much of the actual communication with states and other stakeholders in the fight against the virus…
Even Trump has taken to sounding defeatist at times, as if he had given up trying to save lives. When the president claimed in a recent interview for HBO that the virus was “under control,” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan interjected.
“How?” Swan asked. “A thousand Americans are dying a day.”
“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said. “It is what it is.”
Some people familiar with Trump’s thinking said the president is preternaturally averse to difficult challenges that don’t produce immediate results.
“He’s just not oriented towards things that even in the short term look like they’re involving something that’s hard or negative or that involves sacrifice or pain,” a former senior administration official explained. “He is always anxious to get to a place of touting achievements and being the messenger for good news.”
image…Erin Schaff/The New York Times via Redux