One of the more compelling parlor games in the political world right now is speculating about why Donald Trump's aides don't quit. It's taken as a given that staffers throughout the White House recognize the president's most alarming flaws, but it's less clear why they don't flee their erratic boss before he permanently tarnishes their reputations.
My argument last week is that White House officials stick around because they're not actually surprised. They chose to work for the guy who spent two years touting a racist conspiracy theory -- and that was before he launched a ridiculous presidential campaign that exposed some of Trump's most depraved qualities. They don't quit, I posited, because they knew what they were signing up for.
But there are some members of Team Trump who like to tell reporters that they resist the urge to resign because they're performing a valuable public service. Axios had a piece along these lines over the weekend:
We talked to a half dozen senior administration officials, who range from dismayed but certain to stay, to disgusted and likely soon to leave. They all work closely with Trump and his senior team so, of course, wouldn't talk on the record. Instead, they agreed to let us distill their thinking/rationale:"You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill": The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses. If they weren't there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall.
I suppose the obvious response to this is that the White House is already responsible for all kinds of "crazy stuff," which suggests these officials aren't exactly succeeding in their efforts, but I'll concede it's possible that some in Trump World are intervening before their impulse-challenged boss acts on the worst ideas that pop into his mind.
The curious thing is, we've heard this quote before.
In mid-April, Politico had a report on the internal challenges facing this White House, and it included this paragraph:
As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges -- and the limits -- of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. "If you're an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins," said one Trump confidante. "To talk him out of doing crazy things."
Four months later, there's that word again: "crazy." It appears that America's first amateur president, according to people close to him, consistently has to be talked out of taking outlandish steps that his instincts tell him to consider.
And how do they do that? From the Politico piece:
White House aides have figured out that it's best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press."You don't walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn't care. He doesn't consume information that way," said one senior administration official. "You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like."
As we discussed at the time, White House aides have apparently discovered that in order to get Trump to make the best possible decision, they have to present him with one choice, so he can't screw it up, all while emphasizing expected media reaction, which shouldn't be any president's principal concern.
In effect, officials in the West Wing find it necessary to trick the Leader of the Free World into doing what they think he should be doing -- because the alternative would be his own "crazy" decision.
Behold, the fine-tuned machine of Donald J. Trump's White House, where aides aren't sure the president is fit for office, so they stick around to protect Americans from their boss' impulses.