There are many albatrosses weighing down the grand deregulatory plans of the current administration — infighting, incompetence, investigations of grift — but perhaps the greatest drag on Trump’s grand vision for his presidency is turnover. More than 50 of Trump’s top officials have left since Michael Flynn resigned from his position as national-security adviser just 23 days after getting the gig in January 2017. According to Brookings Institution fellow Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Trump now holds the record for “White House staff turnover, for cabinet turnover, and now for the highest turnover within a single department.”
It’s a strange counterfactual to imagine the regulatory rollbacks of a Trump administration stocked with competent Randians, but all the turnover has certainly hurt the White House’s ability to get things done. “The disruption is highly consequential,” Max Stier, the CEO of a nonprofit that studies federal-government management issues, told the New York Times. “When you lose a leader, it has a cascade effect throughout the organization.”
According to documents obtained by Axios, the Trump team knew going into the inauguration that it could face a cavalcade of staffing issues due to its unconventional personnel choices. Axios reporters viewed almost 100 internal Trump-transition vetting documents that reveal some problems that future staffers would face in their appointments or on the job. Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt was flagged for “allegations of coziness with big energy companies.” Pruitt would later resign amid more than a dozen ethics investigations involving his ties to business interests. Former Kansas secretary of State and voter-suppression czar Kris Kobach missed the cut for Department of Homeland Security secretary in part because of “white supremacy,” with the transition staff citing past accusations from political opponents of his connections to voices within the ethno-nationalist movement.
Within the documents — prepared after Chris Christie was kicked off the transition team and outsourced by Mike Pence to the Republican National Committee — there’s an entire genre that could be called “red flags for candidates who said mean things about Trump.” Nikki Haley was cited for saying Trump is everything “we teach our kids not to do in kindergarten,” as was Ryan Zinke for calling him “undefendable.” The warning on Rick Perry’s file was a bit longer, due to his past comments calling Trumpism a “toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition.” As Axios reports, “The vetting team often put these denigrations at the top of the documents.”
Two near misses stand out: Ari Emanuel, Hollywood agent and brother of Obama’s first chief of staff. For an interview that never happened, the document suggested asking “Will you have any personal issues during times when the Trump administration faces partisan criticism from Democrats, including your brother Rahm or President Obama?” The second non-hire is General David Petraeus, who was considered for national-security adviser and secretary of State before being booted, in part, for being “opposed to torture.”