It’s been a rough week for the White House, so reportedly — yet again — Reince Priebus might get fired.
Surely, no high-level government official in American history has been on the verge of ouster so early and so often. Being the subject of shake-up rumors is practically Reince Priebus’ job description. If he’d been fired every time the possibility had been raised in the press, he’d be the Billy Martin — the legendary oft-fired and rehired Yankees manager — of the Trump administration.
Priebus isn’t the only one. You don’t truly qualify as part of the Trump team unless the president has vented about how woefully you are failing him.
Donald Trump may imagine himself surrounded by incompetents and wreckers, but the sabotage of his White House is an inside job that reaches to the very top.
Consider the Russia bombshell. It’d be nice if Trump could distance himself from the instantly infamous meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya by ruthlessly throwing his erstwhile campaign staff under the bus. But two of three Trump officials at the meeting were family, including his son, who brokered the confab, and his son-in-law, whom Trump has put in charge of a swath of the American government.
Short of that, perhaps Trump could punish the White House spinners who crafted a witlessly misleading statement upon the publication of the initial New York Times story about the meeting. Except the president himself was involved in its drafting.
This is why, as always, the finger-pointing at Reince Priebus — and the rest of the staff — is a misdirection. No one will mistake Priebus for, say, James Baker, Ronald Reagan’s supremely effective chief of staff. But Trump doesn’t want a James Baker, who would unduly constrain him. And everyone knows that it’s not Priebus coming up with the cracked ideas that keep Trump from finding his footing.
These are things that Trump’s chief of staff definitely hasn’t said:
“Sir, we had a successful trip to Europe for the G-20 summit, but I have just the idea to cap it off: a U.S.-Russia cybersecurity unit — an impenetrable one. People will love it!”
“Hey, you really want to yank that nutjob Comey’s chain? Tell him he’d better hope there aren’t tapes of your conversations with him. That will drive him crazy, and I mean, what could he possibly do to retaliate?”
“Mr. President, I’ve noticed that your coverage on ‘Morning Joe’ hasn’t been so great. I recommend a couple of tweets and strongly believe, sir, that you should make them as repugnant as possible. Let’s take it to the next level.”
President Trump could parachute into a White House staffed by literally the best and the brightest, abiding by a crisp organization chart and armed with a carefully considered policy agenda. And immediately the place would be swamped by needless controversies, tangled lines of authority and policy confusion. All these things don’t emanate from below, but from the top.
The past week or so shows the opportunity that Trump is missing. The unhinged reaction to Trump’s Warsaw speech spoke to how far left the Democrats have gone and how Trump could occupy the political center — if only he could exercise some self-control.
Not a lot, only a little. Enough, to put it bluntly, to show up and read his lines and otherwise shut up. Reince Priebus never would have been elected president, but he could do a better job at this elementary task than the president himself. He could be forgiven for occasionally musing about firing Trump rather than the other way around.
Regardless, Trump will continue to step on his team’s message, advertise his worst instincts on Twitter and make whatever might still lurk out there on Russia worse with robustly counterproductive counterpunching. And he’ll do it no matter who is, in Trump’s mind, the manifestly unsuited and failing White House chief of staff.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.