As the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency has unfolded, we periodically hear from people within the White House who suggest conditions, behind the scenes, are worse than Americans probably realize. In April, one presidential adviser said his job was to “talk him out of doing crazy things.” In August, another added, “You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said this week, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
And while that’s obviously unsettling given that we’re talking about the most powerful office on the planet, there’s a question that’s always lurking in the background: how, exactly, does the White House “contain” a confused, amateur president who’s ill-suited for the job?
Six months ago, Politico reported that officials in the West Wing learned that Trump made better decisions when they narrowed his choices down to one. Today, Politico reports that the president can also be managed through a series of delays and distractions.
[I]nterviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling – and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.
“You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day,” said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.
The article described a work environment in which the president sometimes starts the day “worked into a lather,” often based on something he saw on television, at which point aides try to distract him with something new, exploiting Trump’s limited attention span.
As one White House official put it, “You have to just move the conversation along to something else.”
While I imagine much of the country won’t find news like this too surprising – we’re probably all getting used to a degree of madness surrounding this presidency – it remains more than a little alarming to think Trump’s aides routinely have to “contain” Trump this way. This is ostensibly the Leader of the Free World, who apparently needs to be managed as if he were a toddler, surrounded by staffers who have to protect the president and his constituents – which is to say, us – from Trump’s worst instincts.
Behind, the “fine-tuned machine” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
At the Washington Post, Dan Drezner recently helped document each of the times White House officials have characterized the president in ways that make him sound like a small child. The fact that his list is in constant need of updates is terrifying.