Remember: none of what’s happening is normal. Not the reality show host playing President; not the subservient, self-serving, swamp-dwelling Cabinet members; not the daily and, at times, hourly onslaught of chaos and crises coming out of the White House. I’m talking staff turnover right now: the sheer number of Trump administration employees stampeding out of the White House. Not just now, but really, since nearly the Inauguration. Some left by choice and some by boot-kick.
All administrations go through changes and growing pains during the first year. Working in the White House is an incredibly stressful and exhausting experience. However, it is seen as the pinnacle of your career, something you humble-brag about at happy hour and after a few cocktails to everyone in the bar. One can’t get much closer to power than having walk-in privileges to the Oval Office. You can bet that no one in Trump’s orbit ever thought they would actually get to the Oval Office, which makes all the departures so unfathomable.
But the recent departure of Trump’s longest-serving aide, White House Communications Director #4, Hope Hicks, brought into sharp focus the revolving door that is Trump’s office. As of March 1, 23 high-profile staff members have left, or been asked politely (or not so politely) to leave. That is an extraordinary turnover for an administration’s first year. For an even larger list that will blow your mind, go here and let the sheer volume of it all sink in.
Still, no departure came as more of a shock than Hicks’. She was known as the Trump Translator. She was by his side since he slithered down his Trump Tower escalator like a mad king ready to receive his due adulation from paid actors.
No one — save Ivanka — has Trump’s trust more than she with the hair that launched 1,000 tweets. He only has to turn his orange head to see her there, caring for him, speaking for him, telling white lies for him, eating him up and spewing out his bullshit like any good neophyte PR person. Now Hicks is gone and there is no one to press his pants while Trump is still wearing them.
According to that ever-lurking sycophant, Corey Lewandowski, in Michael Flynn’s book Fire and Fury, this happened on Air Force One:
“Get the machine!”… And Hope would take out the steamer and start steaming Mr. Trump’s suit, while he was wearing it! She’d steam the jacket first and then sit in a chair in front of him and steam his pants.
What a demoralized White House. I’m demoralized just reading that pull-quote. There is no one from the early days of the campaign left except Jarvanka — oh, and odious Stephen Miller. It’s possible that Miller will be the last man standing if Jared Kushner is shoved out by General Kelly, the Chief of Staff. Kushner is under intense scrutiny now, losing his interim security clearance while his family’s business and finances become a focal point of the Mueller investigation. It must be so humiliating to have a clearance lower than the White House calligrapher!
Trump doesn’t like anyone to get more press than him, especially bad press. Jarvanka have no business being in the White House in the first place. They are laughably unqualified with zero experience in government and not the best business leaders (666 Fifth Avenue and sweatshop labor, anyone?). But they’re the kids, the Prince and Princess Dubious. Unless the Kushner situation goes completely off the rails and he becomes a serious liability to Trump’s re-election chances, I suspect they’ll be in the White House pretending to work as long as daddy is President.
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institute wrote a paper back in January about the level of turnover compared to previous administrations. She found “Trump’s turnover is record-setting, more than triple that of Obama and double that of Reagan.” In their first year, President Obama had a 9% turnover; President Bush, 6%. Trump had 34%. Think about that: he finally beat Obama at something! This White House is run by chaos theory. Trump may like that environment, but it’s unstable to the world and that is dangerous. Here’s Tenpas:
Six of the 12 Tier One positions saw turnover (Reince Priebus, chief of staff; Katie Walsh, deputy chief of staff; Sean Spicer, press secretary; George Sifakis, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison; Michael Flynn, national security adviser, and KT McFarland, deputy national security adviser). By comparison, Obama lost one adviser from Tier One (Greg Craig, White House counsel), and George W. Bush did not see any turnover in these high-level positions.
High turnover has a direct impact on how things do or do not get done. As we have seen, this White House remains unable to pass any legislation outside of the awful tax bill. Maybe that’s a good thing.
In any business (well, except Trump’s failing businesses), a yearly 34% turnover in staff is unsustainable and a symptom of a larger problem. What is so wrong with this White House that no one wants to stay? Hmmmm. And, personally, I would not want to be White House Personnel Director John “Johnny” DeStefano right now (run, Johnny, run!). The question is: can they recruit more and better experienced people? Hmmmm.
Since Trump’s only requirement to gain employment with him is loyalty, the best and the brightest wouldn’t come near the White House now if were the only safe space against a creepily laughing Alexa. Trump began with a B list, downgraded to a C list and now either doesn’t fill role or else brings in people with absolutely no experience except as a lackey. He’s scraping the D List. (Kathy Griffin to head the National Endowment for the Arts? Damn that photo.)
Here’s something to think about. Politico reviewed 42 résumés of appointees to the US Department of Agriculture. Twenty-two cited Trump campaign experience.
Trump will be hard-pressed to find anyone left in Washington willing to risk reputation and career for such a volatile and discredited administration. Not to mention the ongoing Russia investigation. No one with a brain wants to worry that they’ll be embroiled in that quagmire simply by being in a room with someone under investigation. No one can afford the legal bills.
We have an isolated, fuming, paranoid President careening out of control, and the only real staff left is comprised of inexperienced true believers, ex-Goldman Sachs employees and Kellyanne Conway. Freaked out over his solitude, Trump starts a trade war. Without Hicks to steam up his pants, I expect the next few weeks to see an avalanche of new departures, beginning with National Security Director H.R. McMaster. Buckle up, the White House burn rate is going even higher. And as usual, we’re all getting torched.