Call it the “Omarosa Effect.”
If you work in the White House, you now have to leave your phone in your office if you are going to a meeting in the Situation Room. That new policy comes on the heels of Manigault Newman releasing more secretly recorded audiotapes of conversations she had during the year she spent in the White House. It also comes amid an ongoing witch hunt – to borrow a term – over who wrote an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times that was scathingly critical of the President. And on the eve of the release of Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which casts President Donald Trump as badly out of the loop and kept that way by a handful of senior staffers who are concerned about what he could do to the country.
Combine those three things, and you can see why working at the White House isn’t a pleasant experience at the moment. Wrote CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Kate Sullivan late last week:
“The op-ed amplified the sense of paranoia inside the West Wing and resurrected the feeling that the White House is under assault from within, multiple sources told CNN.
“Trump administration officials, struggling to mount a defense to Woodward’s tell-all book, were stunned when the op-ed was published Wednesday afternoon, left guessing and quietly pointing fingers at other officials as they tried to figure out who wrote it, even texting reporters possible guesses.”
On Monday, the search was still on.
The op-ed and the Woodward book have “led to new levels of suspicion among his staff, many of whom were already at odds with each other,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak wrote. “Trump raised the specter of launching a criminal investigation into the matter last week, suggesting the Justice Department look into who wrote the unnamed editorial.”
Like what you're reading?
This sort of paranoia and backbiting is the direct result of Trump’s management style. He’s made no secret of the fact that he likes to watch his advisers fight it out over policy. He also purposely plays favorites and seems to change his views on people at the drop of a hat. John Kelly was going to bring order to the White House as chief of staff. Then Kelly was on the outs because he was limiting Trump’s ability to be himself. Then Trump said Kelly had agreed to stay on as chief of staff for the entirety of his presidency. Then Kelly might be the person who wrote the op-ed. And on and on and on.
The truth is that this sort of snake-pit environment is what Trump knows best. In business, he often would play top aides off against one another under the belief, according to him, that it brought out the best in everyone involved. In his previous life as a reality TV producer/star, the snake pit was ratings gold. It’s no mistake that Omarosa, who was willing to say or do anything to curry favor with Trump during her time on “The Apprentice,” was turned into a star by the Trump organization. (It’s also not surprising that Omarosa bit back at Trump.)
The problem is that being President isn’t like being the star of a reality TV show. And it’s not at all clear that Trump knows that there is a difference between the two.
Drama is a very good thing in reality TV. If every episode of “The Apprentice” was just a group of aspiring businesspeople going about a task assigned to them by Trump, it would have lasted for about five minutes. The fighting between the contestants, the attempts to ingratiate themselves to the boss – that is what made the show go. And what drove ratings.
When trying to, you know, run the country, drama is a less-good thing. Drama distracts. Everyone. From doing their job.
Think about your own life. If you knew your boss was super pissed about something negative about the company leaking to the press and was on the hunt for who did it, would you feel comfortable and happy – even if you KNEW you didn’t do it? And would you – or any of your co-workers – be able to do their jobs to the best of their ability while trying to also avoid suspicion or blame? Of course not.
Knowing that, most presidents would seek to calm the roiling waters of their White House. Trump is not most presidents. No matter what the official White House line is on the op-ed or the Woodward book, everything we know about Trump suggests that he will not rest until he has a name or names to blame. It’s who he is. And you don’t change who you are suddenly at age 72 and as the President of the United States.
What that means is that this snake-pit environment isn’t going to be getting any better anytime soon. And by “anytime soon” I mean “as long as Trump is President.”