Hiring Anthony Scaramucci was one of the worst decisions President Trump has made in his six months in office. Appointing John Kelly to be his chief of staff may be his best.
Scaramucci’s brief tenure as communications director showed him to be unfit for that role. He is a self-described “diva” with a reputation as a grandstander who, as the New York Times put it, “rivals Mr. Trump’s own outsize knack for self-promotion.”
What the White House arguably needs just now is not more braggadocio from the podium, but instead discipline in crafting and circulating a positive message about the president’s accomplishments. Instead, Scaramucci’s mere days on the job reflected his lack of experience and excessive bravado; his most embarrassing contretemps was beyond the pale.
In a profane conversation with New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, Scaramucci blasted both Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, accusing them of disloyalty to the president. He had earlier implied, with no evidence, that Priebus was responsible for leaking information to the press.
What the White House arguably needs just now is not more braggadocio from the podium, but instead discipline in crafting and circulating a positive message about the president’s accomplishments.
Not only was Scaramucci’s tete-a-tete vulgar, it was also comically amateurish; not laying down ground rules when talking to a reporter, and establishing what is off the record, is Communications 101.
Speaking for the president of the United States is the most important communications role in the world; it’s not the place for a novice.
Some of President Trump’s fans applauded Scaramucci’s attacks on establishment figurehead chief of staff Reince Priebus. They were delighted to see Priebus pushed aside soon thereafter.
They should think again.
It’s time the grown-ups in the room acknowledged what an invaluable role Priebus and the Republican National Committee played in electing Donald Trump.
While the president likes to portray his win as a singular personal victory, in reality the party committee helped even the odds between the skeleton Trump crew and the massive Clinton machine.
It was the RNC, headed at the time by Priebus, that hired three top data analytics firms to provide the kind of information that is essential to modern campaigns, that provided pop-up field offices in critical states like Florida where Clinton had a formidable organization, and that helped fund his campaign. In May, acknowledging the tidal wave of funding flowing to Hillary, Trump backed off his earlier promise to self-fund his effort, and teamed up with the RNC.
Priebus, who is mild mannered and humble, earned his spot in the White House by being loyal to the campaign, and also by resuscitating over six years an undernourished RNC that finally caught up with the rival DNC.
Soon after the election, when the president-elect tapped Priebus to be Chief of Staff, he said, “I’ve never had a bad second with him. He’s an unbelievable star.”
Meanwhile, during those months leading up to the election, Scaramucci was angling for a way in. After earlier supporting Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, and once describing Donald Trump as a “hack politician” with a “big mouth”, he finally came aboard the Trump Train as a fund raiser. With Steve Bannon installed at Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus as chief of staff and dozens of others sworn in after the election, Scaramucci was left out in the cold, which he bitterly resented.
The delay in getting an appointment was partly because the sale of his business, SkyBridge Capital to a Chinese firm raised ethics issues that the White House wanted clarified. It was also rumored that Priebus objected to bringing him into the inner circle, a charge the former RNC head has denied.
In any event, we now may know why he was initially passed over. His appointment as communications chief put him in charge of formulating and controlling the messaging from the White House, a job that he completely scrambled almost from the start.
When the Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s legal team was exploring whether he could pardon himself, Jay Sekulow, attorney for the president denied the report and told CBS News, "Pardons are not being discussed and are not on the table."
A couple of days later Scaramucci spilled the beans that he indeed had talked about pardons with the president in the Oval Office. Not helpful.
That kind of miscue is inexcusable. He was, admittedly, new to the job, but instead of excitedly tweeting out selfies while riding on Air Force One, Scaramucci should have been coordinating the Oval Office narrative. His performance over his short tenure was all about Anthony.
The final infraction, however, in which he seemingly celebrated to the New Yorker writer the schisms that are slowing the Trump agenda and therefore hurting the country, was unforgiveable.
We can fairly assume that John Kelly, Trump’s new Chief of Staff and a former four-star general, pushed Scaramucci out the door, setting down a marker for the kind of behavior he will tolerate. Good for him.
Mr. Kelly is known to be a tough-minded straight talker; it is hoped he will bring discipline and dignity to an organization in need of organization. The infighting between various factions of the Trump White House has distracted from the president’s agenda, and cannot be tolerated.
Some of the personnel battles have hurt the president. President Trump has recently alienated some of his staunchest supporters by his callous demeaning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has attacked Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia inquiry, which in fact was demanded by the rules of the Justice Department. The former Alabama senator has been a loyal Trump supporter from the start, and is widely viewed as a decent and highly ethical man.
Priebus is also well regarded, and was a pleasantly stable presence in this unorthodox White House, if not the tough power broker the job demands. In leaving, he continues to be a gracious loyalist, saying “I’m always going to be a Trump fan. I’m on Team Trump, and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.”
Trump needs to respect that kind of loyalty if he is to retain and attract experienced and decent people to push his agenda forward. Calming the White House waters will be essential to that task – a task that Kelly has already begun.