The Trump administration is falling apart before it even came together. The White House has been infamously slow to fill vacant positions throughout the executive branch, due to the president’s signature combination of ignorance, incompetence, and insecurity.
Trump reportedly went into his post-election meeting with Obama “unaware that the entire presidential staff working in the West Wing had to be replaced.” Among the would-be staffers that his transition team did bother to recruit, several failed to survive into the presidency’s fourth month. And the administration’s attempts to alleviate its staffing crisis have been undermined by the president’s aversion to hiring anyone who ever publicly suggested that making an emotionally volatile reality star our commander-in-chief would be a mistake.
Of course, even if the White House had put great effort into recruitment — and welcomed #NeverTrumpers into the fold with open arms — the president’s incendiary antics and anti-intellectualism may have been sufficient to keep D.C.’s best (conservative) policy minds at bay.
Still, so long as it looked like Trump could strike a balance between tweeting baseless felony accusations against his predecessor and shepherding Paul Ryan’s agenda through Congress, some Wall Street power players and retired generals were willing to hop into Trump’s swamp.
But the last two weeks have revealed just how full of gators, leeches, and malarial mosquitos that swamp truly is.
Who will want to do communications for a president who makes a daily habit of generating a five-alarm public-relations crisis; contradicting the White House’s official strategy for containing that crisis; and then berating his communications team for their incompetence? Who will want to provide national-security advice to a president who can’t be bothered to read a briefing that’s longer than a page; refuses to prepare for high-level diplomatic meetings with foreign powers; shares highly classified information with foreign adversaries on a whim; and then makes you declare his behavior “wholly appropriate?” Who will want to join a team that appears to spend most of its free time either telling employees how miserable they are or how miserably incompetent their co-workers have been?
And with last week’s appointment of a special prosector, working for the Trump White House is no longer merely nightmarish — it’s also, potentially, expensive. As Politico reports:
President Donald Trump has deep pockets to pay for personal lawyers to defend him from the evolving federal investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.
It’s a very different story for his staff.White House aides bracing for subpoenas and grand jury summons have already begun making inquiries for legal help to navigate the unfamiliar terrain, according to lawyers who have been contacted, opening critical lines of communication in a bid to avoid serious harm to their reputations and careers, and perhaps even jail time.
“It can cost a lot of money,” said Peter Wehner, a former George W. Bush White House aide who was called in for a grand jury appearance in the investigation into the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. “Just for safety sake, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.”
As David Brooks notes, the challenge facing the White House’s human-resources department is without precedent:
We have seen White Houses engulfed by scandal before. But we have never seen a White House implode before it had the time to staff up. The Nixon, Reagan and Clinton White Houses had hired quality teams by the time their scandals came. They could continue to function, sort of, even when engulfed.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, has hundreds of senior and midlevel positions to fill, and few people of quality or experience are going to want to take them.
Nor will it be easy to prevent “filled” positions from emptying up: On Friday, Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Jim Donovan suddenly realized that taking a White House gig would require him to spend less time with his family.
Donovan is no small fish. One of the many Goldman Sachs veterans to seek a position in the bank’s new public-sector division, Donovan helped hire all of the Treasury Department’s political appointees, and was expected to be a central player in crafting the administration’s tax-reform policy.
But now Goldman has grown bearish on this White House.
All that said, fascist sheriffs who cosplay as war heroes still see some appeal in working for Trump. And surely, the administration will become more appealing to high-quality candidates once a few more Sheriff Clarkes join the team.