On Monday night on CNN, Carl Bernstein made this proclamation: "The president and his presidency is in chaos."
It's a remarkable statement given that we are only 11 days into the presidency of Donald Trump. It's also very hard to dispute.
Consider this amazing — and I do mean amazing — WaPo story today about how Trump and his inner circle produced the very controversial executive order instituting a travel ban on refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The story details the infighting and blame game among Trump's top advisers and includes some eye-popping lines.
* "Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly fumed privately to associates over the weekend because they had been caught unaware by a travel ban that was drafted and set into action largely in secret by the White House, according to three people who have spoken with them."
* “The problem they’ve got is this is an off-Broadway performance of a show that is now the number one hit on Broadway,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich of the Trump administration. (Sidebar: Gingrich is an informal adviser to Trump!)
* “A little bit of under-competence and a slight amount of insecurity can breed some paranoia and backstabbing,” one White House official said of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. “We have to get Reince to relax into the job and become more competent, because he’s seeing shadows where there are no shadows.”
Any one of those lines is problematic in a normal White House. The quote from an anonymous White House official about Priebus who, let me emphasize, is the White House chief of staff, is stunning. If that line was used in "House of Cards," I would roll my eyes and say it would never happen in real life.
And, it's not just the Post story that shows the seeming tumult among Trump's senior advisers. A piece in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday details how Department of Homeland Security chief John Kelly is at odds with the White House over staffing in his organization. A Vanity Fair post details the struggles of Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner as he seeks to exert influence over the president.
Read any one of those stories and the word "chaos" jumps to mind. Or "turmoil." Or "dissension." All of them convey the same thing: Less than two weeks into his presidency, there is a knife fight happening daily among Trump's top aides.
Bernstein clearly meant his chaos comments in a negative way. Chaos, in traditional political thinking, is bad. It suggests a president who doesn't really have control over his people and a White House that resembles a roller coaster car shuddering as it travels at too high a speed down the tracks.
And, maybe that's all true. It's possible that the Trump train is on the verge of jumping the tracks. (Mixed metaphor alert!)
But, every indication from what we know of Trump the businessman and reality TV star suggests that he revels in the chaos, that he believes the chaos produces just the sort of results he likes.
Think back to the "boardroom" on "The Apprentice." Bring everybody in. Let them attack one another and level allegations. Consult with a few of your consiglieres — George for the win! — and then make a bold and, often, unpredictable decision. Yes, that was a TV show. But it was a TV show created by Trump (and Mark Burnett). That means that the way the show worked came directly out of Trump's brain and generally speaking represents his view of how things should work.
Remember that for Trump, appearances matter most. And he likes the perception of himself as the decider, the buck-stopper, the only one who can cut through all of the noise and battling egos to make the call. In order to make that image truly work, you need noise around you at all times. So Trump put in place a senior leadership team that would create it.
The other important point here is that Trump believes all of life — business and politics included — amounts to a sort of survival of the fittest/toughest. His critique of Hillary Clinton's health during the 2016 campaign was based on the idea that anyone who has a weak moment — as Clinton did at a 9/11 memorial service — can't possibly be up to the top job in the country. For Trump, the constant battles between his aides are a sort of real-life "Survivor" episode. The toughest SOB is the one Trump wants. And only through political combat can that be determined.
The combination of chaos, combat and constant sniping is not a bad thing in the worldview of Donald Trump. In fact, it is the one truly necessary thing.