A new president needs to staff his administration with people who will be loyal to him. Donald Trump’s problem is that he does not have enough loyalists to staff the White House, much less the entire executive branch.
Previous presidents have come to Washington after enough time in politics to develop concentric circles of loyalists who can take jobs at all levels of government.
Trump didn’t have that and he campaigned with an abrasive style that alienated much of the Republican Party’s political talent. Beyond that, Trump’s way of running his business, even though it made him a billionaire, was small in scale — in his Trump Tower office, he relied heavily on a tight circle of people who were either related to him or had been with him for a very long time.
Now, Trump’s style has led to an acute staffing problem across the administration and also to high-profile infighting in the White House. The former means that Trump cannot assert full control over a massive federal bureaucracy that is already inclined to resist him. The latter has led to an almost comical situation in which the president has piled portfolio upon portfolio on trusted son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Many Trump supporters are dismayed by the slowness with which he is hiring for the various government departments and agencies.
Even though that slow start across the bureaucracy is probably more consequential, the White House palace intrigue has received the lion’s share of press attention. Lately, the spotlight has focused on friction between Kushner and top adviser Steve Bannon.
In a recent interview, New York Post’s Michael Goodwin asked whether Trump still had confidence in Banno. Trump said: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.”
It doesn’t take a mind reader to interpret that as a vote of no confidence.
In the China of Chairman Mao, veterans of the Long March held a special place; they had been with the Great Helmsman for the entire journey. The situation is much the same in any American political operation, where candidates value people who have been with them all the way. In TrumpWorld, that’s nobody.
And other top White House aides, like chief of staff Reince Priebus and spokesman Sean Spicer, were also latecomers. Not surprisingly, there have been trust issues; no Long March loyalty for them, either.
Thus Trump’s focus on the family. He formally brought daughter Ivanka and Kushner into the White House power structure.
And Trump began to pile jobs on Kushner. The Middle East peace portfolio. Point of contact for foreign leaders. Tackling the opioid crisis. Heading the Office of American Innovation. “No human being can do all that stuff,” says a Republican White House veteran.
When Bill Clinton’s White House went off the rails in the spring of 1993, Clinton tried to recover by hiring the veteran Republican political operator David Gergen. The addition helped smooth things a bit, in part because it showed Clinton was willing to reach outside his circle to help run the government.
Donald Trump will probably have to do that too. Reach outside his circle, that is, not specifically hire Gergen, which would cause some Republicans to leap from tall buildings.