A telling story: There is a friend of President Donald Trump’s, who has known him for years — and has defended him for just as long — who now says he can’t quite do it anymore. “I always thought that once he understood the weight of the office, he would rise to the occasion,” this friend says. “Now I don’t.”
Another Trump friend now says he’s trying to find a way to distance himself from “that mess” in the White House. His advice, he admits, is often unheeded.
It’s hard to know, when you live in the eye of the storm, whether the White House is truly at a tipping point. That’s also because, in this White House, there is a storm-du-jour: the Gen. Mike Flynn fiasco, the Trump charge about Obama wiretapping him, the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the latest controversy over Trump’s reportedly sharing classified information with Russians in the Oval Office.
White House staff, says one outsider who has spoken with multiple senior staffers this week, are “disconsolate.” And, he adds, “These are the real loyalists. These are the people who truly care about Donald Trump.”
And even if the White House staff is at a tipping point, there’s a larger — and more important — question: Is the President himself?
In one way, maybe yes. He is reaching out to friends about potential staff changes, according to multiple sources. One source with direct knowledge says he is “upset” with his legal team. Most recently he was upset with White House Counsel Don McGahn, whom, this source says, the President faults with giving him “bad advice” about how to handle the Comey firing. “It was awful,” this source says. “Even for [Trump] it was not presidential.”
But in another way, no, the President is not anywhere near a tipping point. In fact, he may be incapable of one. Because change does not come easily to Donald Trump. There is absolutely no sense among his friends, according to multiple sources, that he blames himself for any of his problems. It’s his legal team or his communications team or his senior staff. The President, says one source, “seems to have lost confidence in everybody.”
So he complains constantly, says one source, but he can never say that, yes, maybe he ought to take the presidential daily brief, um, daily. Or that he ought to require more substantive briefings before meeting with foreign officials. Or that freelancing is not a great idea in classified settings.
“There’s not enough substance to much of what he gets,” says one ally who has gotten feedback from a foreign official who recently met with Trump. And that allows the President, this source says, to just go “off script and have his instincts take over and [he] goes with it.” Consider: the Russians.
“Is he absorbing what comes through the door?,” this friend asks, “or what he sees on social media and TV?” In fact, this ally has told Trump “if you want to become a great President, turn off the TV.”
Again, these are friends — people who want to see the President succeed. They all understand the need for staff changes — and agree with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner who believes, according to a source with knowledge, that the communications shop needs to be fixed. But they also say that replacing the entire staff would probably not do much to fix the most important thing: Trump himself.
Unless, as one source points out, someone can tell the President when he is wrong — rather than spending time spinning to justify his mistakes and missteps.
“Nobody,” says one friend, “is willing to lose his job to save the President.”
A task that grows more onerous every day.