Wed, Feb 22, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Chaos in the White House: ‘There’s never been anything like this’

After the fastest, most furious week yet for the Trump administration, veteran politicians say they have never seen such turmoil or ineptitude

By David Smith and Ben Jacobs  /  The Guardian, WASHINGTON

“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” Trump said at a rambling, impromptu press conference.

That characterization has provoked scorn.

“From what I can tell, it’s non-functional,” political analyst Rick Tyler said. “It’s not firing on all cylinders, the timing is off and the ignition won’t engage.”

The executive order, “created havoc and turmoil,” Tyler said. “The communications team are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory to what the president says.”

Democratic consultant and strategist Bob Shrum called the president’s defenses “preposterous.”

“It’s like a car where none of the gears work and you’ve no idea if you’re going at 90mph or 30mph and you’re just careening. It doesn’t remotely compare with anything I can think of. There’s never been anything like this,” he said.

One Republican with ties to the White House blamed growing pains, from Trump’s lean campaign to the staff of the federal bureaucracy.

The Trump administration has also decided to vet for any criticism of the president during the campaign. On Thursday last week, a political appointee at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development was fired after it was noticed that he had written a critical opinion column about Trump in October last year.

However, operations have also been hampered by competing interests and seething mutual suspicion. Media reports describe paranoid staff using a secret chat app that erases messages as soon as they are read.

Trump’s inner circle includes Conway; White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; senior advisers Jared Kushner, 36, (Trump’s son-in-law) and Stephen Miller, 31; and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, the former Goldman Sachs executive who has likened himself to Thomas Cromwell in the court of former king of England Henry VIII.

Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008, told reporters this week that “whole environment is one of dysfunction in the Trump administration.”

“Who’s making the decisions in the White House? Is it the 31-year-old? Is it Mr Bannon? Is it the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff? I don’t know,” McCain said.

The default answer could still be Priebus, who, as chief of staff, would traditionally act as gatekeeper to Trump, but his boss is anything but traditional, and Priebus’s establishment influence is countered by two ideologues, Bannon and Miller.

Bannon, previously head of the right-wing Breitbart News, has been described by Democrats as a white nationalist and is seen by many as the true power behind the throne.

Last week Bannon and Priebus gave a joint media interview to deny rumors of a rift, but Tyler said: “There’s no clear chain of command. They can’t tell who’s in charge.”

“If Priebus and Bannon are doing PR [public relations] to show how well they get on, that shows Priebus is losing. He is the chief of staff, so he shouldn’t need to say he’s meeting with Bannon, who ought to be a subordinate,” Tyler said.

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