Donald Trump is learning a lot of things the hard way these days, and one of them is that you don’t send Mick Mulvaney to conduct a press briefing. Now why he would do so to begin with, when he’s got Stephanie Grisham, whose job title is White House Press Secretary, and to whom taxpayers pay six figures to do said job, is a mystery still yet to be solved. Grisham has never done press conference number one, and maybe on these facts, she never will. In the Trump White House, the job of press secretary is analogous to being a Flying Wallenga, working without a net, except that the ground below is not only hard, it’s contaminated with flesh eating bacteria, as well, so there is zero chance of survival if you fall. Ask Mulvaney, who just like the Titanic, crashed on his maiden outing as press briefing holder, and now he and Trump are in the same lifeboat. The Atlantic:
The president has polled confidants about whether Mulvaney is up to the job, blaming him for leaks and negative news coverage, and considering whether he should find someone else to run the West Wing. It might stand to reason, then, that with Trump’s growing frustrations with Mulvaney—coupled with a performance yesterday that could put Trump in greater legal jeopardy than ever before—Mulvaney’s days as acting chief of staff are numbered. […]
Trump was not happy—and neither were his most prominent allies. The shock of Mulvaney’s admission [of withholding aid, pending a Ukraine investigation of CT regarding a DNC server] was only compounded by the flippancy with which he delivered it: For those troubled by it, he told reporters, “get over it.” Mulvaney later walked the claim back, but even in the eyes of the president’s closest confidants, the damage was done. For a White House staffer, there is perhaps no worse place to be than in Sean Hannity’s crosshairs, and that’s where Mulvaney found himself yesterday, after undercutting the administration’s talking points on impeachment in a way that not even a Trump-loving Fox News host could spin. Shortly after the press conference, Hannity excoriated the acting chief on his radio show: “What is Mulvaney even talking about?” Hannity scoffed. “I just think he’s dumb, I really do. I don’t even think he knows what he’s talking about. That’s my take on it.”
Normally, with a benediction like that from Sean Hannity, the party in question would be on the way out the West Wing revolving door at warp speed. However, Trump has thrown out so many former allies at this point, and had some of them turn on him, ala Michael Cohen, that he no longer has the luxury of invoking his signature “You’re fired!” against any of the people who are left in his circle, because today’s terminated employee may well be tomorrow’s star witness, with the House committees building an impeachment case. Exhibit “A” to this premise is John Bolton, who’s coiled in the corner. He has not struck — yet, but he’s shaken his rattles and made his intent clear. Bolton called Rudy Giuliani a “hand grenade” and with what Bolton probably knows about Ukraine, he could probably be a howitzer shell or bigger. Trump may be furious with Mulvaney, but he may be forced to tread lightly, because the last thing he needs right now is another John Bolton, bent on revenge — and at a time when Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may easily flip on Trump, in the spirit of CYA.
Nevertheless, in the course of combusting the White House’s narrative on impeachment, Mulvaney unwittingly demonstrated why, at this fraught moment in Trump’s presidency, he may be untouchable: Should Trump fire him and leave him aggrieved, Mulvaney could prove a damaging witness in Congress’s impeachment investigation.
A former White House official said Trump “will be feeling the pain of having pushed out [former National Security Adviser John] Bolton at a very inopportune time. He won’t make the same mistake with Mulvaney, however frustrated he may be with him. Now, their interests are aligned. They sink or swim together.”
It’s a line of thinking that has come to permeate the West Wing, and it marks a significant shift in how Trump is beginning to view his relationship with his staffers. For the past two and a half years, the White House has operated like a radio perpetually set on scan, with Trump sampling staffer after staffer in search of those whose rhythms match his own. Indeed, as Mulvaney told us earlier this year, it’s made for a West Wing whose atmosphere is dictated by one particular maxim: “He could fire any of us tomorrow.”
No wonder Mulvaney’s predecessor, John Kelly, said that the White House was “a horrible place to work.” Be that as it may, Mulvaney may continue to be there, because the stakes of his situation are finally starting to dawn on Trump, and he may need to worry more about keeping Mulvaney as a friend, or at least keeping him from becoming an enemy, then salving his own ego, by trash talking and canning Mulvaney on Twitter.
Donald Trump, age 73, is finally getting a lesson he never learned, that actions do have consequences and that the bigger a blowhard you are, the more explosively you fall. Cue the Twilight Zone music.
If I had to bet money, I would say that John Bolton is the last of the precipitously fired appointees. Bolton has been in politics one hell of a lot longer than Trump, and he has an investment in both his reputation and his legacy, both of which Trump unceremoniously trashed, and unfairly by most people’s yardstick. Bolton got the boot after he disagreed with a proposal to ease sanctions on Iran, in order to facilitate a meeting between Iran and the U.S. Trump disagreed with Bolton, reacted like the child that he is, and he overplayed his hand, badly, by ousting Bolton. Trump will live to regret that move, and that took place before the disastrous withdrawal of troops from northern Syria. Washington Post:
Trump’s announcement last week that he intended to pull U.S. troops out of northeast Syria was another blow to Bolton’s legacy.
The move ceded control of the area to Turkey and Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, while leaving the Syrian Kurds who had allied with the United States to fight the Islamic State. It contradicted promises Bolton had made in January, when he said the United States would need to ensure that Kurdish groups “who have fought with us in Syria” would not be put in “jeopardy” by any withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Trump flew right in the face of Bolton’s views time and again, and there will be a reckoning, as he proved this week, that Bolton was the keel keeping the foreign policy ship from capsizing altogether.
So Trump’s made an enemy out of John Bolton and everybody is waiting with bated breath to see if Bolton writes a tell-all book, testifies before the House committees, or all of the above, plus Trump has managed to put Mulvaney in the catbird seat, even though, logically, Trump has cause to fire him. Personally, I don’t think Mick Mulvaney is going anywhere — unless it’s his call, and his alone. He can’t be happy with the direction things have gone and he’s never had a full commitment to the task at hand, or he would have accepted the chief of staff post and not be “acting.” Mulvaney has always seen himself as a placeholder and a pinch hitter, and one of Donald Trump’s corps of television lawyers. The press briefing Thursday was just another PR appearance, albeit one that backfired spectacularly, even for this administration.
On a purely pragmatic basis, if Mulvaney leaves, whomever would take his place would be chief of staff number four. Talk about a place where angels fear to tread, good luck to Trump in replacing Mulvaney. In fact, if Mulvaney did go, there’s only one logical replacement, the shadow chief of staff who’s been there all along, calling the shots — Jarvanka.
Either Jared or Ivanka as acting chief of staff would be a disaster, but that’s not the best and most pragmatic reason that Mulvaney will probably be begged to stay on and will do so. Remember Lyndon Johnson’s quip about Hoover, “It’s better to have him inside the tent, pissing out, then outside pissing in.” With Bolton out there, in menacing mode, Trump has to have some semblance of damage control. Mulvaney is a lot easier for the GOP to control if he remains part of the executive branch. And for his own part, Mulvaney may prefer that, rather than testifying before the House committees. So, for now, it looks like whether they like each other or not, whether Trump is soured on Mulvaney or not, they’re shipwreck victims who have to stick together for mutual survival.