After less than four weeks in office the Trump administration is already beginning to fray at the edges. I suspect the future is bleak. Today’s firing of Lt. General Flynn as National Security Adviser is just a minor example. And do you remember that Deputy Attorney General holdover who was fired by Trump for not backing his immigration executive order? Well, she warned the administration weeks ago that Flynn was a problem and that his ties to Russia expose him to the threat of blackmail. So was that a factor in her dismissal? Expect Congressional hearings to pursue this possibility.
Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway has been making a public laughing-stock of herself. Her claim of “alternative facts” that support risible Trump claims of widespread voter fraud is a gift to comedians that just keeps on giving. There comes a point where her slavish devotion gets old. Trump is unlikely to fire her but her usefulness is starting to wane.
Now there are reports that the nomination of Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary is in dire jeopardy. Four Republican Senators have indicated that they will oppose him, and Trump can only afford to lose two, assuming Democrats stand together. Aides are scurrying around trying to solve this problem but the outlook is dim.
Also, the word is out that the most visible member of the Trump team, Sean Spicer, is due for the chop. His problems at the podium are not entirely his fault. He has been trying to hold down two key jobs, Press Secretary and Director of Communications, either of which would consume a full day’s work. The only thing holding him up is that a replacement isn’t obvious. And who in their right mind would want the job of explaining administration actions, not to mention the Twitter-in-Chief’s latest outbursts, to an increasingly restive press corps? It is a bit like that old joke about the job of President itself, “Anyone who actually wants it is probably too mentally damaged to succeed.”
As I have long expected, Reince Priebus is floundering as Chief of Staff. He is a square peg in a round hole and he has the hardest staff job of all. His primary role is to set up and enforce procedures to make the White House run smoothly and to prevent anything important from falling through the cracks. So how well has that worked so far? See below for my take if you don’t already know the answer. They desperately need an old pro for this crucial position, but that goes against all of Trump’s instincts. A political pro who has Trump’s confidence is an oxymoron. What is desperately needed is a reincarnation of James Baker. Know anyone who qualifies?
Key positions just below the top are not just empty, they don’t even have viable candidates willing to serve. And the current turmoil would discourage even the most adventurous. Thus no legislation is being readied for Congress, just more ill-prepared executive orders. Nothing is happening on the Obamacare front or on tax reform or on infrastructure spending, and a budget is far beyond current capabilities. Of course Congress will begin to take up the slack, but that will make the administration even more irrelevant. Trump will devote more and more time to tweet tirades and responses to perceived personal affronts. Watch his body language when he makes his infrequent and brief public appearances. He hates this job. Ladbrokes, the premier British bookmaker, has the odds of him completing his term of office at only slightly better than even money. And, unlike the TV talking heads, these are pros who put their money where their mouth is.
Consider for a moment what these weeks of effort have brought forth: a border fence whose cost estimate now exceeds $21B, with Congress gagging on the expenditure; associates seen as stumbling over blatant lies and missteps; an immigration executive order whose roll-out is reminiscent of Obama’s ACA web site disaster; forced recantation of bold threats against China and the one-China policy; building evidence that an alliance with Russia to resolve international threats is the same false hope that mesmerized previous Presidents; recognition that driving a stake through Obamacare is much harder than was thought and may even be impossible to achieve; town hall meetings across the country flaring into shouting matches as his policies are debated; and one-by-one his bold campaign promises either fade from sight or are mired in the realities of actual legislation.
Things might be different if they had a real plan and the skill and sense of purpose to bring it to fruition. Evidently they don’t. And what they boast about achieving would be difficult even with a cooperative Congress. Yet in spite of controlling both Houses, cooperation will be a faint hope. Democrats are taking what may become infamously known as “The McConnell Option“. Just before the 2010 midterm elections, then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that the Republicans’ number one priority is to ensure that there was only one term for their despised foe. Of course, Democrats are not as stupid as McConnell was, baldly announcing his intentions on the Senate floor. However I have little doubt that Chuck Schumer and his allies are whispering similar thoughts among themselves, with sly glances and wicked smiles.