The current White House is shedding staff faster than my cat sheds fur. Gary Cohn announced his resignation this week. The stated reason? Tariffs. Cohn believes the steel and aluminum tariffs being pushed through by the president are bad for America. Most economic experts agree with Cohn, but this is not a president who listens to experts.
Perhaps that is why Jared Kushner retains his job even though he cannot get a proper security clearance and he is unqualified to do any of the things he’s been tasked with doing. No one could accuse Kushner of being an expert at anything. In fact, he mostly seems to tell the president whatever he wants to hear. Good strategy for a son-in-law, bad strategy for a senior advisor to the White House.
In just a few months the administration has lost its communication director (Hope Hicks, pseudo daughter to the president and third person to hold that job), a senior staff secretary (Rob Porter, wife abuser), public liaison officer (Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who knows?), a deputy national security advisor (Dina Powell, former-future Goldman Sachs exec), the secretary of Health and Human Services (Tom Price, high flyer), and numerous others. Reportedly on the bubble are National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been in jeopardy since day one, but he’s proved stickier than most.
The president denies that he has a staffing problem, despite hard evidence to the contrary. In an article about the turnover, the New York Times quotes the president as saying:
“Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House,” he said. “They all want a piece of the Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.”
That may be, but people who take jobs in this White House find the West Wing takes an even larger piece of them. I believe this is true even under presidents who don’t actively foster chaos and mistrust. Just look at George Stephanopoulos the political commentator as compared to George Stephanopoulos the communications director for the Clinton White House. He looks younger and healthier now than he did then. It’s a stressful environment, no matter who is in charge.
Today, it seems beyond stressful. Every person who has come in contact with this administration beginning in the early days of the campaign, is in danger of being swept up in the criminal probe run by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Even people who were let go long ago find themselves on the pointed end of a subpoena. It’s a bad place to be. Just look at Sam Nunberg, the former campaign aide who spun out spectacularly in a series of cable news appearances this week. It was both fascinating and sad to watch. I almost feel bad for the guy. Almost. My sympathy is tempered by his bizarre allegiance to Roger Stone, a man who looks and acts like a parody of a super villain. But Stone is no actor, he’s the real deal. He’s been screwing over America for his own personal gain since the Nixon administration. You have to wonder what Stone does to inspire such ardent loyalty from people like Nunberg. I’m picturing some sort of orgiastic blood-letting ritual in the high desert, but I digress.
It is nearly impossible to predict who will be the next to go and whether they will flee or be cast out. Just 24 hours ago, my money was on McMaster’s resignation, but Cohn raced him to the exit and won. Even golden boy Kushner seems unlikely to keep his spot in the administration for much longer. After all, if he can’t attend the meetings, then he can’t pretend to work. Ditto for Ivanka, whose role in the administration has always been murky and a little icky. The president won’t fire his daughter, of course, but he may have to accept her resignation.
When I picture the White House these days, I envision it mostly as a single set of footsteps echoing through a marble hallway. The air, I imagine, is thick with the scent of fast food cheeseburgers and Melania’s perfume. Every phone call is shot through with paranoia and loneliness. It’s a dystopian version of the government we thought we knew. Mueller may shut the whole thing down soon. Even if he doesn’t, the main players are abdicating. Who will be the last to go, I wonder? I hope he or she has the decency to turn the lights off and tidy up a bit before leaving.