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What Trump and his staff are learning in the White House

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Politico has a fascinating report by Josh Dawsey, Shane Goldmacher, and Alex Isenstadt:

The 70-year-old leader of the free world sat behind his desk in the Oval Office last Friday afternoon, doing what he’s done for years: selling himself. His 100th day in office was approaching, and Trump was eager to reshape the hardening narrative of a White House veering off course.

So he took it upon himself to explain that his presidency was actually on track, inviting a pair of POLITICO reporters into the Oval Office for an impromptu meeting. He sat at the Resolute desk, with his daughter Ivanka across from him. One aide said the chat was off-the-record, but Trump insisted, over objections from nervous-looking staffers, that he be quoted.

He addressed the idea that his senior aides weren’t getting along. He called out their names and, one by one, they walked in, each surprised to see reporters in the room—chief of staff Reince Priebus, then chief strategist Steve Bannon, and eventually senior adviser Jared Kushner. “The team gets along really, really well,” he said.

He turned to his relationships with world leaders. “I have a terrific relationship with Xi,” he said, referring to the Chinese president, who Trump recently invited for a weekend visit at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Finally, he rattled off the biggest hits of his first three months and promised more to come.

It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.

But interviews with nearly two dozen aides, allies, and others close to the president paint a different picture – one of a White House on a collision course between Trump’s fixed habits and his growing realization that this job is harder than he imagined when he won the election on Nov. 8.

So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power. Mistrust between aides runs so deep that many now employ their own personal P.R. advisers — in part to ensure their own narratives get out. Trump himself has been deeply engaged with media figures, even huddling in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge.

Trump remains reliant as ever on his children and longtime friends for counsel. White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press. Among his first reads in the morning is still the New York Post. When Trump feels like playing golf, he does — at courses he owns. When Trump feels like eating out, he does — at hotels with his name on the outside.

As president, Trump has repeatedly reminded his audiences, both public and private, about his longshot electoral victory. That unexpected win gave him and his closest advisers the false sense that governing would be as easy to master as running a successful campaign turned out to be. It was a rookie mistake. From the indignity of judges halting multiple executive orders on immigration-related matters—most recently this week—to his responses to repeated episodes of North Korean belligerence, it’s all been more complicated than Trump had been prepared to believe.

“I think he’s much more aware how complicated the world is,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who serves as an informal administration adviser. “This will all be more uphill than he thought it would be because I think he had the old-fashioned American idea that you run for office, you win, then people behave as though you won.”

Trump has had some successes. He nominated and saw confirmed a new Supreme Court justice, rolled back Obama-era regulations, and oversaw dramatic military actions in Syria and Afghanistan. He has signed rafts of executive actions, unilateral decisions familiar to the former Trump Organization president.

Yet he approaches the 100-day mark with record-low approval ratings and no major legislative accomplishment to his credit. Nothing hit Trump harder, according to senior White House officials, than the congressional defeat of his first major legislative package—the bill to repeal Obamacare. As he sat in the Oval Office last week, Trump seemed to concede that even having risen to fame through real estate and entertainment, the presidency represented something very different.

“Making business decisions and buying buildings don’t involve heart,” he said. “This involves heart. These are heavy decisions.”

More than 200 of Trump’s campaign promises are scribbled in marker on a whiteboard in Steve Bannon’s West Wing office, which he calls his “war room.” Other pledges are printed and taped beneath a poster that says: “Make America Great Again.”

“Deport 2 million criminal illegal immigrants,” reads one pledge. Others call for all of President Obama’s executive orders to be reversed and for the U.S. to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. A few have large check marks next to them. Another sign notes 11 have been delayed. It’s a visual encapsulation of how Bannon sees the presidency about keeping promises.

In Kushner’s office, just steps away, there’s no “Make America Great Again” memorabilia. Instead, the whiteboard lists deadlines for bipartisan projects in his newly-founded Office of American Innovation on infrastructure and veterans’ affairs. Kushner often talks about the presidency like it’s a business, describing it privately as “entrepreneurial” and in “beta mode.” He often doesn’t mind when Trump flip-flops, if it’s in the service of striking a deal.

The gap in worldview and temperament between the two has produced the most combustible, and consequential, conflict in the West Wing. In the first days following Trump’s inauguration, it was Bannon who pushed to speed through a blitz of executive orders, including the ill-fated travel ban. And it’s been Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate scion, who’s leaned the other way, encouraging his capricious father-in-law to espouse less divisive positions.

“It’s an ideas and ideology battle every day,” one senior administration official said.

Perhaps the defining and unanswered question of the Trump presidency is what he truly believes in. Is he the inflexible immigration hardliner who described undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” in his June 2015 kickoff speech or the president who recently said those brought here illegally as children should “rest easy” because he doesn’t plan to deport them? Will he try to make deals with Democrats? Or will he devote himself to Bannon’s nationalist agenda? And, other than winning, what does Trump really want?

No single day was more telling about the ambiguity of Trumpism than April 12. It was that day that Trump not-so-quietly reversed himself on at least four of his campaign promises. He canceled a federal hiring freeze imposed in his first week. He flipped on labeling China a currency manipulator. He endorsed the Export-Import bank that he had called to eliminate. He declared NATO relevant, after trashing it repeatedly on the campaign trail.

“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said. “It is no longer obsolete.”

Trump’s critics and supporters alike are equally flummoxed about what this president stands for. . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Later:

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”

and then later after that:

But they’re learning. One key development: White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.

“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”

And more:

“He has always been a guy who loves the idea of being a royal surrounded by a court,” said Michael D’Antonio, one of Trump’s biographers.

Many of those aides spent the opening weeks of the presidency pushing their own agendas – and sparring with one another. Priebus brought into the White House his chief of staff, chief operating officer and chief strategist from the RNC; Bannon has his own P.R. person and two writers from Breitbart; Kushner brought allies from the business world, and recently recruited his own publicity adviser; Conway has her own chief of staff; now Ivanka Trump has a chief of staff, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2017 at 1:55 pm

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