George W. Bush aide’s theory about why Trump’s White House is so damn leaky
You don’t have to be Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein to figure out that the working environment inside President Trump’s White House is toxic and dysfunctional. Sources inside Trumpland are constantly leaking disturbing details of internal power struggles, palace intrigue between staffers, and accounts of the president’s erratic behavior to news outlets. The Washington Post was able to find 17 sources willing to spill the beans about Trump’s weekend of all-consuming rage following Jeff Sessions recusal. Politico managed to find around a dozen sources willing to talk about how much they hate White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Every time someone within the White House holds a meeting about how the administration is going to crack down on leaks, the details of that dressing down immediately leak.
Every administration has leaks, sure, but the situation under Trump feels excessive. Last week, Nicolle Wallace, former GOP operative and President George W. Bush’s communications director, appeared on the “Pod Save America” podcast and told hosts (and former Obama staffers) Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer why she believes Trump’s staff can’t stop dropping dimes to the press.
“I didn’t work in a really leaky White House, but it wasn’t because we didn’t have cell phone numbers of reporters. It was because we had a rigorous internal process. We could have screaming matches. There weren’t a lot of them, but we could have really big fights… There was really a rigorous process for sort of making your case and then taking it to the president, and, if you lost, you lost. But if you lost and you leaked, then you wouldn’t make it back into the Oval Office to make your case next time.”
Obviously, leaking doesn’t bar people from entering the Oval in a Trump regime, but perhaps that’s because so many people are talking to the press that it’s hard to narrow down a handful of culprits.
So, there was a process for airing your side and there was sort of a promise that would continue to be the process where you get to air your concerns about a current strategy, and often in my case it was a communications strategy. [Counselor to the president] Dan Bartlett and I were involved in a series of speeches when public support for the Iraq War had fallen out, and we suggested speeches acknowledging mistakes in the military strategy and the diplomatic strategy. There was a lot of opposition, and we made our case and we prevailed… it never leaked out at the time that we were having this robust debate inside the White House about whether or not to do something.
My point is that the leaks are never the cause of anything. They’re a symptom. My guess is that they are a symptom of a lack of any sort of process for having debates internally and the knowledge that Donald Trump reads all of his press coverage. So, if they want to say something to the president, just leak it, and he’ll read it.
Sunday night’s Politico profile described Priebus as a micro-manager who was constantly trying to block his political rivals’ access to the president. Senior advisor and first son-in-law Jared Kushner has also bragged that everything that gets to the president “runs through me.” Of course, Kushner, Priebus, and adviser Kellyanne Conway are reportedly always trying to wrestle influence away from Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.
There doesn’t seem to be a direct line in regards to communicating with the president and his seemingly disorganized administration. Perhaps the only way to insure that he pays attention to an issue, as Wallace pointed out, is to have it end up on the front page of the New York Times, or better yet, an early morning segment on “Fox and Friends.”