What that staff shuffle tells us about President Donald Trump is a lot more than you might think.
Spicer, remember, is not and never has been a “Trump guy.” He was brought into the White House at the urging of Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman-turned-White House chief of staff. Prior to his time at the RNC, Spicer kicked around a number of party committees and campaigns. He was a creature of Washington, not a creature of Trump.
Scaramucci is the opposite. He is a New York City guy who made his living as a hedge fund manager. He once worked at Goldman Sachs, like a number of Trump’s closest advisers. He is a personal friend of both the President and his family. (CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, supported Scaramucci’s hire.) He is also an experienced, bare-knuckled television presence.
The move from Spicer to Scaramucci reflects a decision by Trump to surround himself almost entirely with people loyal first and foremost to him – as opposed to the Republican Party or the Washington establishment.
And it comes as Trump hunkers down for what appears to be an inevitable collision with Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is leading the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Over the course of even the last 72 hours, Trump has not only shuffled his legal team but also embarked on an aggressive strategy to take the fight to Mueller and his investigative team. In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump not only agreed that any broadening of the scope of Mueller’s investigation beyond Russia would be a red line but also offered ominously: “There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
Trump has always kept his inner circle small – in his business life and in politics. And that inner circle shrinks down to family and friends when the chips are down. The chips – whether the Trump administration wants to admit it or not – are very much down at the moment. And so, Trump is turning to the people he trusts most – his immediate family and friends that he has known for a very long time.
There is also an element of the Scaramucci move that speaks to the President’s oft-stated desire to have a staff who lets him be himself.
Scaramucci, in his first appearance at the White House briefing podium Friday afternoon, said that in his conversation in the Oval Office with the President on Friday there was an emphasis on “letting him be himself.” Scaramucci added that part of his job is to allow Trump to “express his full identity.”
“I think it is very important for us to let him express his personality,” he later added.
It’s not immediately clear how a “Let Trump be Trump” strategy would differ from the first six months of this presidency.
Trump has, occasionally, spent a day or even a few days allowing himself – and his Twitter feed – to be managed. He has delivered a speech straight off the teleprompter on occasion. He has passed on chances to take a swing at someone who has taken a swing at him.
But, inevitably and inexorably, Trump returns back to the brash provocateur which he has been for almost every moment of his 71 years on Earth. He is not someone who likes to be managed – or tolerates it for very long. What Trump seems to prefer is to surround himself with a group of people with whom he can kibbitz rather than a group of people telling him what to do.
Scaramucci seems to fit that mold perfectly – in a way Spicer never did.
With the hiring of Scaramucci (among other moves of late), Trump is doing what almost anyone would: Going back to what – and who – he knows. In doing so, Trump appears to be willing to live or die, politically speaking, by leaning as hard as he can into doing exactly what he wants to do.