The 100-day watch: Why every White House meeting seems to leak

The White House is apparently worried about Donald Trump’s presidency being judged by the coming 100-day mark, that artificial benchmark essentially created by the media.

And so, in classic fashion, communications officials convened a meeting, details of which were immediately leaked to Politico.

It increasingly seems that two officials can’t exchange words in a White House bathroom without it immediately hitting the web. As a journalist I often benefit from talking to officials on background or off the record, but there’s no question that the flood of leaks from this administration—as Kellyanne Conway acknowledged to me in a Sunday interview—isn’t helping the president.

Even in a five-day stretch in which Trump unleashed airstrikes against Syria and saw Neil Gorsuch join the Supreme Court, the stories about jockeying and feuding between Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and others continued to draw considerable media attention. Trump did mention at yesterday’s Gorsuch swearing-in that he had gotten his man confirmed in the first 100 days.

The 100-day milestone is, of course, a snapshot (yes, I’ve used it as well, and yes, Fox has a show called “The First 100 Days”). But it’s also somewhat arbitrary. When we look back at history, we don’t particularly focus on what JFK, LBJ, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton or Obama accomplished by April 29.

But since the media are going to make it a huge deal, it’s a ritual in which every administration has to engage.

So we’ve got an unnamed White House official telling Politico: “One hundred days is the marker, and we’ve got essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around. This is going to be a monumental task.”

This is called trumpeting the communications strategy before you carry out the communications strategy, thereby making everything that follows look like PR packaging.

But it gets worse.

The session, convened by the new communications director, Mike Dubke, was described as dividing into three groups, scribbling ideas with whiteboards and markers, and that drew anonymous criticism. “It made me feel like I was back in 5th grade,” a White House aide told Politico.

Dubke was quoted as saying it was nothing more than “a brainstorming session” and that he wished skeptics had spoken up to have “an open and honest conversation” rather than running to the press. He also said his notion that the first three-plus months had to be “rebranded” was misinterpreted, but that they did need to brand it before the media did it for them.

What’s behind these leaks? People tend to dish anonymous criticism when they’re frustrated by their colleagues or have no confidence that internal complaints will be heeded. And there appear to be multiple sources here.

The press, meanwhile, is all geared up to report on the early stumbles, from two immigration orders blocked by the courts to the failure of the ObamaCare replacement bill, and that’s fair game. But there is also the Keystone pipeline, the killing of the Pacific trade pact, a boosting of economic confidence, an assault on regulations, and now the Syria airstrikes and the successful SCOTUS pick.

Any new administration is a work in progress. As the year wears on, we’ll see whether Trump can break through on some combination of tax cuts and infrastructure projects. And, as we’ve been reminded in recent days, a president is also judged on his ability to respond to unforeseen crises.