Stories

Trump creep: bad habits spread fast

Photo: Olivier Douliery, Pool / Getty Images

All habits, good and bad — in all organizations, big and small — flow down fast from the top. This dynamic is particularly true in the White House, and unmistakably true in this Trump White House. 

The big picture: Trump’s lifelong habits — to improvise, to attack, to deny the undeniable, to leak — spread fast through the White House, metastasized in the agencies, and infected Republicans in Congress.  They are Republican habits now.

  • Look at Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose hold on his job looked more precarious after yesterday's devastating testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray. He made it almost impossible to believe the West Wing's assertion that no top officials knew the full extent of the Rob Porter allegations until the Daily Mail story broke.
  • You see Kelly reflecting Trump with harsh instincts and words on immigration — and with the chief's willingness to double down and say the Porter fiasco was handled fine, defying the reality apparent to his colleagues.
  • Look at the leaks pouring out of the White House — including the president himself musing to outsiders about possible replacements for Kelly.
  • Axios' Jonathan Swan says the current level of leaking — much of it against Kelly — is almost as bad as it was when a good proportion of the White House staff was trying to kill Reince Priebus.
  • Look at the White House silence in situations that under previous presidents would have elicited shame or condemnation. And look how almost every elected Republican now sits with similar silence. 
  • Look at the messy, understaffed agencies and disregard for traditional rules of the road.
  • Look at the staff-on-staff infighting, as Trump's style breeds internal factions.
  • And it spreads to the GOP ... Trump trashed the FBI, so aides freely trashed the FBI, so congressional Republicans gladly piled on. And now just 38% of the party views the agency favorably, according to our Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.
Quote"It's the Donald Trump culture. It's every man for himself — do what's best for me, not for the organization."
A senior Trump administration official
  • "Trump's habits have infected Kelly," the official also said. "Trump never backs off, and Kelly continues to insist that he's right."

Why it matters: Trump has spent his life creating his own reality inside his head. Spend enough time working with him, and it becomes hard to resist seeing the world his way. Those who refuse to do so wind up lashing and leaking.

The malignant atmosphere was captured by the N.Y. Times' Peter Baker: "Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades."

  • "He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable."
  • "Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas."

Be smart: Staffers tell me they go through a cycle of being enamored of Trump's larger-than life persona, but then become frustrated by the environment he creates and allows, followed by anger at his self-destructive tendencies.

Kicker ... Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood," who won 10 national championships in 12 years: “The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example."