What the White House Purge Means for the Trump Administration
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
Opinion -- Over six months into the Trump Presidency, the excitement has hit levels previously thought impossible before. The dramatic saga of firings, replacements, and promotions has brought down some stars and elevated others, producing some of the shortest tenures in the history of the West Wing.
But, as to be expected, the mainstream media is doing whatever it can to use this as an excuse to criticize the President and his team. You have likely heard descriptions all across the news cycle such as “chaotic,” with some speculating that the President has no control over his White House in the face of numerous leaks and alleged infighting.
But indeed, if there ever was any dysfunction or instability, it just might have come to an end.
First, it is important to note that this entire ordeal is very much a repeat of a similar phase during the Trump campaign in 2016. After the firing of Corey Lewandowski, who ran the campaign as an outsider that emphasized Trump’s uniqueness, the Trump team brought on longtime Republican operative Paul Manafort, who had experience in numerous Republican campaigns dating all the way back to Gerald Ford in 1976. This was seen as a turning point where Trump would begin accepting the advice of the “traditional” political advisors, or “insiders.” However, when Manafort’s toned-down and more stereotypically political approach did not satisfy Trump, he fired Manafort and replaced him with two more outsiders: Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who both ultimately carried Trump’s campaign to victory in November.
This episode can very much be seen as similar to the Manafort/Bannon/Conway ordeal. Trump tried to let his team be run by seasoned political operatives with deep ties to the RNC, with its former chairman Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, and former RNC communications director Sean Spicer as Press Secretary (and, briefly, White House Communications Director as well). But this still produced too many problems - numerous leaks continued to pour from the White House on Priebus's watch, there were alleged clashes between Priebus and the outsider Bannon (now President Trump’s Chief Strategist), and Spicer was often seen as relatively incoherent in his capacity as Press Secretary and incapable of handling the press, as well as unable to maintain stability and unity in his own Communications team.
Look no further than the two who replaced them: Priebus was replaced by Marine General John Kelly, who had been the Secretary of Homeland Security, while Spicer was replaced by outsider businessman and Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci. Reflecting the saga of Manafort being replaced by Bannon and Conway, the installation of an outsider like Scaramucci, or someone who was not a traditional political figure like General Kelly, indicated that President Trump was preparing to take control of his White House back from the establishment.
This reflects an acting method of Trump’s business conduct, which he has applied to the world of politics, as outlined in Newt Gingrich’s new book “Understanding Trump.” Gingrich says that, from the world of business to the world of politics, Trump “takes information and does something with it. He tries something, sees how it works, and either continues or switches to something else.” He admits that this method has weaknesses, “because he will eventually try things that don’t immediately succeed or are poorly received,” and this will be targeted relentlessly by the media. But, as Gingrich notes, this is simply human nature, and if anything, should be considered true leadership since he is willing and prepared to make mistakes for the purpose of better learning how to run things as efficiently as possible (Gingrich, 9).
But then another twist came in the story: Scaramucci, the man who replaced Spicer and also allegedly played a role in Priebus’ removal, was fired himself. This was on the recommendation of the new Chief of Staff Kelly, and also allegedly with the support of Steve Bannon.
Although a number of reasons may be given for Scaramucci’s removal - not the least of which included his vulgarity and disparaging comments of others in the White House - it is most important to look at those who played a role in his removal. Bannon’s alleged role in such an important decision appears to reaffirm his significance in the Trump White House, amidst numerous rumors from the left-wing media that his job was in danger. And Kelly being front and center in his removal is significant because it was, more or less, his first official action as Chief of Staff. This indicates that he is prepared to bring a level of military-style discipline to the West Wing under President Trump.
In addition to the reinforcement of the role of outsiders in the Trump White House, and General Kelly’s determination to bring the West Wing under control with a strictly-enforced chain of command, there is one other key implication of the White House purge and its current status with Kelly in charge: Public perception. Kelly is the perfect individual to turn around the current White House image of instability and replace it with one of order. As “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams has pointed out, it is not just the fact that the removal of ineffective (Spicer and Priebus) and chaotic (Scaramucci) White House figures, and their replacement with more stable ones (Kelly), project a newfound sense of discipline and calm after a tumultuous seven months; at the same time, Kelly’s military background instantly makes him a much more respectable figure than any of these other individuals - one that the media will have a much harder time criticizing. This is what Adams calls the pivot for the media narrative away from one of “Trump’s people are incompetent” to “Trump’s people are competent, but we don’t like what they’re doing.” Another significant step in the right direction.
Overall, the media will once again use this latest shake-up to portray the Trump Administration as flailing and directionless. But indeed, this latest saga proves that it is anything but; President Trump is indeed set in one particular direction with these latest removals and replacements. The fact that he first tried a more traditional, “insider” approach was more of a token of gratitude to the party leaders who cooperated with him, rather than him fully trusting them to run his Administration. Now, when their ineffectiveness has outweighed their past loyalty, he has once again taken back full control, and is prepared to run his White House the same way he ran his campaign: iron-fisted outsiders, focused more on results and discipline rather than politics and personal favors.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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