The Post reports: “The president has a congenital inability to take personal responsibility for his own mistakes. Throughout his career, he’s sought out scapegoats whenever situations get hairy. He’s doing it again amidst the continuing fallout from his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director.”
Because every error is someone else’s fault, President Trump — who went through three campaign leaders — is reportedly thinking about a major shake-up — or at least threatening a shake-up in his already shell-shocked White House. Everyone from Stephen K. Bannon to Sean Spicer seems to be in danger of losing his job. Only Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who reportedly didn’t discourage the firing of Comey and thereby proved once again how incompetent they are — are safe. (Their complicity in the Comey firing and Kushner’s shared anger at staff underscore that they are enablers, fueling Trump’s worst instincts, not voices of reason that can restrain him.)
Bannon was apparently close to getting the ax or quitting once before, at the time of the flap over his removal from the National Security Council attendee list, but he is still there. We cannot rule out the possibility that Trump is just lashing out and has no real intention of a mass firing, which would be read as acknowledgement that he failed to hire “the best people.”
Trump supporters cheering a possible shake-up should consider a number of factors:
First, when they are fired, aides have more incentive to rat out their former colleagues and boss. In this case they may find themselves under subpoena to testify under oath. (Given how readily Trump has waived executive privilege by talking about internal conversations, his ability to prevent such testimony is far more limited than he may think.)
Second, after everyone has watched the clown show and seen how readily Trump undercuts his aides, he is not likely to get the cream of the crop. Rather than a career-making move, going to work for Trump nearly guarantees one will appear dishonest and gullible. With each round of replacements the quality likely diminishes. Loyalty — toadyism, actually — is such an overarching requirement in this White House that new staff is unlikely to bring new ideas and/or help guide the president away from his own worst instincts.
Third, potential advisers may be afraid to join the administration for fear of implicating themselves in wrongdoing. If the president is engaged in obstruction of justice, partially through his lies to the public, then aides who knowingly lie are implicated as well. At the very least, close aides may need to lawyer up before they enter the White House. Harvard Law School professor and constitutional law expert Laurence H. Tribe warned, “Unlike POTUS, they’re all subject to federal prosecution, indictment, trial, criminal conviction and ordinary sentencing for conspiring with, aiding and abetting, or helping cover up federal crimes.”
Knowing exactly what lines they cannot cross would be essential for anyone joining an administration already enveloped in scandal. At some point any of them may be accused of lying to the public in support of a coverup, misleading investigators, lying under oath or even failing to testify completely to Congress. One experienced lawyer cautioned, “Almost anything can be an obstruction if it was committed with the specific intent of frustrating an investigation.” Is a job in a failing presidency worth all that?
Finally and most critically, Trump’s problems have little to do with staff whom he bullies, intimidates and keeps out of the loop. “The system may be failing, but it is Trump who is picking which buttons to press,” The Post reported. “The president takes pride in being the ultimate decision-maker, for matters large and small. And chaos has been a hallmark of Trump’s enterprises, from his family real estate empire to his presidential campaign, a 16-month venture during which he cycled through three leadership teams.”
Unfortunately, for all these reasons, the current crew may be the best staff Trump can ever assemble. What the country really needs is a new president, not new functionaries.