About six weeks before President Trump was inaugurated, a Trump transition staffer explained the power struggle between newly named White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus with a reference to a certain bloody HBO drama. “In this administration, titles will not matter,” the staffer told New York. “It’s like Game of Thrones.”
As Trump brought his chaotic management style to the White House, the Game of Thrones references continued with a relentlessness that can only be compared to Tyrion’s wit, or perhaps the show’s commitment to depicting gore and nudity.
A year ago, George R.R. Martin got in on it himself. “I think Joffrey is now the king in America,” he told Esquire. “And he’s grown up just as petulant and irrational as he was when he was 13 in the books.”
In July 2017, right-wing radio host Larry O’Connor said it was “lazy” to think of the Trump administration as a reality show — “it’s more like Game of Thrones.” He went on to explain that Trump’s hiring of Anthony Scaramucci days earlier was a rejection of the advice of “Hand of the King Reince Priebus.”
Shortly after Scaramucci’s ten-day rein as communications director came to a tragic end, Al Gore commented on the spate of White House firings, saying, “Last week somebody said it was like the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones — people coming and going and ‘I’m going to fire everybody.’ It was really wild.”
Three months later, Senator Marco Rubio jokingly lamented that if he’d kept a closer eye on the drama in Westeros, he’d have beaten Trump in the primaries. “If I’d have watched [Game of Thrones] two years ago, I would’ve been president,” he said. “It’s got a lot of good strategies.”
And of course, it’s not just politicians and pundits. Journalists have continually described the backstabbing among Trump staffers as something out of Martin’s five-plus fantasy tomes. Reacting to reports that current chief of staff John Kelly is feuding with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Fox News’ Chris Wallace commented in March: “Game of Thrones has nothing on this White House and this administration right now.”
But now that’s all in the past. The Washington Post reported on Monday that in the two months since the departure of Hope Hicks, the communications director post has been left vacant, with Trump essentially functioning as her replacement — and standing in for other top aides:
The president also has unofficially performed the roles of many other senior staffers in recent months, leaving the people holding those jobs to execute on his instincts and ideas.
In this new Trump-centric universe, the warring between different West Wing tribes — or great houses, if you will — is no more. While Trump’s current advisers have their differences, they’re not battling to impose their worldview on the White House :
Largely gone are the warring factions that dominated life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the first year of Trump’s term, replaced by solo players — many with personal connections to the president and their own miniature fiefdoms — laboring to do their jobs and survive.
Trump has brought in a handful of senior people who believe in him personally, are temperamentally in sync with the brash boss and are invested in his political success more than some of his first-year aides were.
So, how would those close to Trump describe this entirely new atmosphere within the White House? Well, it’s a lot like Game of Thrones — but in, like, a different way:
At least two people in Trump’s circle — one current White House official and one former — likened the dynamic in the West Wing to HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” They chose the show, they said, not because of the internecine conflicts and deadly family feuds, but because of the general sense of confusion and seesawing fortunes.
“I would liken it to ‘Game of Thrones’ a little bit, not for the obvious reason, but from a factual standpoint,” said the current official. “No one knows where anyone else is, and everyone is playing everyone else a little bit. Everyone is essentially in business for themselves.”
This seems like an opportune moment to branch out into other prestige-drama references, or at least a different HBO show. But perhaps it’s best to wait until Ivanka gains sentience, tinkers with Jared’s programming, and enlists his help in staging a (metaphorically) bloody robot rebellion against the man who created her.