Last week, Donald Trump called Larry Kudlow to offer him the job of leading the White House National Economic Council. But during the call, the president apparently took pleasure in the fact that his own team had no idea he was extending the offer.
Kudlow told the Wall Street Journal that the president said on the call, “No one else knows that you and I are having this conversation.”
According to the Washington Post, the same thing happened when Trump brought on Joe diGenova, a television pundit and far-right conspiracy theorist, to serve on his legal defense team.
The hiring caught many of his advisers by surprise, prompting fears that Trump is preparing for bigger changes to his legal team – including possible departures – as he goes on the offensive in the primary legal challenges facing him.
Trump is not consulting with top advisers, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and chief White House lawyer Donald McGahn, on his Russia legal choices or his comments about the probe, according to one person with knowledge of his actions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations. He is instead watching television and calling friends, this person said.
“He is instead watching television” might as well be the name of the PBS documentary series on Trump’s presidency.
But even putting that aside, I remain fascinated by the number of instances in which Trump blindsides his White House team. Before the president took office, the conventional wisdom was that Trump, a confused amateur with no relevant experience, knowledge, curiosity, or familiarity with the most basic details of government, would rely heavily on his staff, since left to his own devices, the president would obviously have no idea what he’s doing.
Those assumptions have become almost totally inoperative. Trump now seems to enjoy winging it, making major decisions without consulting anyone in the White House, reveling in the chaos.
When he declared in his Republican convention speech that he “alone” can fix what ails the nation, Trump apparently wasn’t kidding.
Or as the Washington Post put it last week, “The mood inside the White House in recent days has verged on mania, as Trump increasingly keeps his own counsel and senior aides struggle to determine the gradations between rumor and truth.”
Think about the recent evidence. Trump didn’t tell his staff about his latest hires. He didn’t tell aides he’d ignore their guidance on what to say to Vladimir Putin. He didn’t tell them in advance about his tariffs policy. He didn’t involve them in his decision to meet with Kim Jong-un.
And those are just some of the most recent examples. As we discussed a few weeks ago, this has become a staple of Trump’s presidency. His aides didn’t know that he’d denounce a House Republican surveillance bill that the White House supported. The White House staff was also surprised to learn that he’d announced via Twitter that Christopher Wray was his choice to lead the FBI. They were equally startled to read Trump’s tweets banning transgender Americans from military service.
White House aides also didn’t know in advance that Trump would falsely accuse Barack Obama via Twitter of tapping his phone. They also had no idea that the president would tweet news about John Kelly serving as chief of staff. Politico highlighted an instance from early last year in which Trump lashed out at China via Twitter “while U.S. officials were meeting with a Chinese delegation at the State Department.”
My personal favorite was this Associated Press report:
Aides to President Donald Trump were in deep talks about how to defuse tensions between Qatar and other Arab nations when the door to the secure room at the White House burst open.
The urgent message: Trump had just tweeted about Qatar.
One adviser read the tweet aloud and with that, the policymakers in midconference call had no other choice but to rework their plans to reflect the president’s tweeted assertion that Qatar, host to some 11,000 U.S. troops, was funding terrorism.
It was an accusation against a close U.S. ally that had never been voiced so publicly and with such indelicacy.
A White House official recently complained, “This is the most toxic working environment on the planet.” Team Trump is facing a staffing crisis, though under the circumstances, I’m a little surprised it’s not worse.