Some current White House officials say they are simply exhausted after all the constant fighting, and lack the energy to try to constrain a wilful president bent on having his own way. It’s normal for officials to return to the private sector after a few years of pressure-cooker public service, but the Trump administration has seen extraordinary levels of turnover, and the administration’s current ranks are thin and getting thinner. A current White House official described a “who cares” attitude creeping through the building under Mulvaney’s hands-off management style.
But others in the White House relish the daily hand-to-hand combat as House Democrats careen toward what looks like an inevitable impeachment vote. Those people “feed off of the frenzy and want to fight and are kind of excited about another opportunity to fight the ‘witch hunt’ like they did with Mueller and impeachment,” a former official said.
“We’re having the time of our lives fighting for the president and this country,” said a senior administration official.
There is also a concern among Trump alums and other Republicans close to the White House about the current quality of the White House staff. Unlike past officials who occasionally stood up to Trump, redirected his fury or learned which of his whims they could safely ignore, today’s crop of aides are more willing to indulge his basic political needs and desires, they say.
“Your Year Three team is very different from the Year One team in terms of the type of people and how they view their role and how Trump views their role,” said the former official. “He’s not looking for people to offer contrary opinions or to urge caution or try to restrain him in any way, and the people there don’t view that as their role either.”
The letter to Erdogan is a case in point, former officials note: It shows that Trump is more directly in charge of what goes on at the White House than ever before.
Earlier in his tenure, when the president was going to write a foreign leader, officials at the State Department and the National Security Council would usually draft a version and the president would try to “insert some of his Trumpisms into it” before other officials worked with him to get to a letter that everyone was comfortable with, said the former official. But with experienced bureaucratic warriors like Jim Mattis and national security adviser John Bolton now gone, there are few senior foreign policy officials left to stand in Trump’s way.
“You wouldn’t have a letter to a foreign letter that was just like dictated on the back of a napkin by him,” said the former official. “He’s even more personally and individually in the driver’s seat and doing things on his own.”
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley pushed back against the criticism, describing it as a “chattering class ‘we know best’ mentality.”
“While the media allow so many in Congress, the D.C. establishment and Beltway bureaucracy to complain anonymously from the shadows because their precious swamp is being drained,” he said, “President Trump continues to be out front working tirelessly and successfully for the American people.”
Veteran Trump aides differ as to whether, and to what extent, the president’s recent behavior is truly new. “Essentially it’s him doing what he wants, just as it was in the beginning, and now, and forever,” one former White House official said.
But the chaos at the White House has led to more staffers to plot their departures and try to get new jobs, according to a former senior aide in touch with current White House employees.
Another factor: It’s considered bad form to leave when the reelection campaign is in full swing, this person noted, not just because White House staffers are desperate to “get out of the crazy.”