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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Last week, Donald Trump told the New York Post about advisor Steve Bannon: "I like Steve, but..." Bannon's friends and colleagues scrambled to figure out if the story was as bad as it looked — frantically texting him with questions. They're still trying to get answers, gleaning much of their information via anonymous quotes in the press.

Trump likes it that way, and the episode illuminates Trump's improvisational management style. He's always been more of a creative deal-maker and salesman than a manager. In his business career, he oversaw a very lean executive team, and he preferred to his deals to be mano-a-mano.

He made phone calls from early morning to late into the night. He stayed loose, always open to next idea. The bigger the concept, the more potential for glamor, the better. And he always, always — as Bannon, Reince and the rest now keenly know — kept his associates on edge.

The elements of Trump's management style, from Trump's own words, interviews with former staff, current staff, and three of his biographers:

Throwing people off balance: "He's spent his entire life doing this," says Trump biographer Gwenda Blair. "Super competitive, looking for the opening, the angle, the way to win … always get in ahead, throw everybody off balance, say you won, double down, insist, bully, charge ahead."

His door always open: That cliché was, and remains, true. Inexperienced staff who worked for Trump recall being amazed at the free and easy access they got to the boss. Now he's President, Mar-a-Lago members are amazed to be chatting with the commander-in-chief on everything from Reince Priebus' suitability as chief of staff to that "crazy" guy Kim Jong-Un.

"Creative combat": "His theory," says Blair, "is that it will bring out the best performance from [staff] if they're extremely competitive and afraid they're going to be fired." A good number of White House staff assume they could be fired at a moment's notice, given Trump's history of cycling through campaign managers. Only a tiny fraction of employees — family chief among them — have reasons to feel safe.

Loyalty: Trump prefers to hire intensely loyal staff, and we're seeing that now in the way he's filling his White House (and excluding "Never Trumpers"). In a one paragraph statement for this story, White House aide and former Trump-family employee Hope Hicks used the words "unbelievably successful," "incredibly effective," "great," "leadership," "ingenuity," and "high energy" to describe her boss.

Delegation: "He's more inclined to trust people" than many outsiders assume, says biographer Michael D'Antonio. Trump will "give them a lot of leeway with regard to their portfolio, and if they succeed pile on more duties."

But…selective micromanagement: Trump is a micromanager on matters of style and reputation. And money. At the Trump Organization he personally signed relatively minor checks, and now in the White House he haggles over airplane contracts and plays theatre critic when his spokespeople go on TV.

Ruthless: Trump had two mentors. His dad, Fred, who was ruthless. And his lawyer Roy Cohn, who was even more ruthless.

Why this matters: Trump is the only U.S. president in history to win the office having spent no time in elected office or in the military. The early days of his presidency have been deliberately fast-paced and, in some cases like the botched travel ban rollout, incompetent and needlessly chaotic. For the first time he's running into an entire bureaucracy, large parts of which are completely foreign to him. We're still learning whether he has the capacity to adapt.

Go deeper

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
2 hours ago - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

Obama: Broad slogans like "defund the police" lose people

Snapchat.

Former President Barack Obama told Peter Hamby on the Snapchat original political show "Good Luck America" that "snappy" slogans such as "defund the police" can alienate people, making the statements less effective than intended.

What he's saying: "You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you're actually going to get the changes you want done," Obama told Hamby in an interview that will air Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. EST on Snapchat.