Sep 15, 2017

Trump's new world

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Over the past week or so, we've heard all kinds of theories from administration officials and President Trump's friends on the outside about why he's cutting deals with "Chuck and Nancy" and softening on his core issue of immigration.

The points we keep hearing:

  • Trump is loyal to nobody but himself, and certainly no political party given how frequently he changes party affiliation.
  • He wants deals at any cost and, unburdened by ideological beliefs, he'll switch sides overnight.
  • He's so frustrated by Republican leadership that he's been driven into the enemy's arms.
  • And lastly, for the first time in his presidency, he's enjoying positive media coverage and coherent reinforcement from his top aides.

Our thought bubble: The dramatically different information Trump receives daily under the leadership of Chief of Staff John Kelly is an under-looked factor in Trump's decision to double down on his partnership with the Democratic leaders.

Trump's top advisers — Jared and Ivanka, General Kelly, and Gary Cohn among them — are mostly sympathetic to "Dreamers." There's no more Steve Bannon. And Stephen Miller's nationalistic voice is a lonely one inside the White House these days. So consider how different life is these days for aides bent out of shape by Trump's public pivot to Marco Rubio-style arguments regarding a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought here illegally as children.

  • Remember, to the ears of immigration hardliners, Trump's tweets Thursday would have sounded like something Marco Rubio might have said during the Gang of Eight fight.
  • Instead of being able to march into the Oval Office and hand Trump the latest Breitbart headline or printouts of tweets showing how badly his amnesty drive is playing with his fiercest nationalist supporters, aides opposing the decision would now have to go through the Kelly process, which would involve submitting an official, documented, request to meet with the president.

The result: Trump gets mostly positive feedback for his turn towards bipartisanship. He watches cable news in the morning, and even "Fox and Friends" finds a way to praise his deal with the Democrats. He reads his morning news clips and briefing materials, which are managed by Staff Secretary Rob Porter, under the guidance of Kelly. And during the day it's not possible for a staff member to sneak a story onto Trump's desk that might rile him up and turn him in a wildly different direction in an instant.

Bottom line: Staff who oppose the moderate immigration turn no longer have unfettered access to Trump, and nor do allies on the outside who, in the first six months of the administration, used to send text messages to Trump's bodyguard Keith Schiller, and often receive a snappy callback from the president. Kelly now has real control over the most important input: the flow of human and paper advice into the Oval Office. For a man as obsessed about his self image as Trump, a new flow of inputs can make the world of difference.

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