Mar 29, 2018

How to thrive in Trumpland

Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

It’s no secret what it takes to get booted from the Trump administration. Annoy the president with wordy, nagging disagreements. (Ask outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster.) Call him a moron. (Ask outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.) Or make it seem like you are the puppet master. (Ask former senior strategist Steve Bannon.)

The real mystery: How does anyone survive in the wild West Wing? Based on countless conversations that we have had with aides past and present, here’s how.

1. Flatter and defend the boss.

  • Even better if you do it on TV. Stephen Miller is the master of this genre. He rarely appears on TV. But when he does, he deploys Trumpian hyperbole. When the media and courts were undercutting Trump’s initial botched travel ban, Miller told CBS that the powers of the president to protect the country “will not be questioned.”
  • More recently, Miller told CNN: “The president is a political genius.”
  • Kellyanne Conway is another master of this genre, and she gets extra points from Trump for appearing on combative shows like Brian Stelter’s "Reliable Sources" on CNN.
  • Cautionary note: Too much media exposure — especially when the aide becomes the story — can be deadly. The Mooch went from Air Force One to unemployed in 11 days.

2. Work on esoteric topics.

  • “I guess there’s also the approach of not getting close enough to him that he knows who you are or you become a perceived threat to someone else,” one White House official said when we asked how to survive in this administration.
  • Out of Trump’s sight and out of Trump’s mind is the safest place to be in his administration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry deliberately took a low-key, low-media approach when he arrived in Trump’s Washington. The result: Trump doesn’t see him as a headache the way he does some of the other cabinet secretaries who are constantly in the news for the wrong reasons.
  • Chris Liddell led an office that West Wingers privately mock as ineffectual — Jared Kushner’s Office of American Innovation. And yet Chief of Staff John Kelly recently promoted Liddell to the potentially powerful role of deputy chief of staff for policy coordination. Liddell is a quiet, serious man, who has made few, if any, enemies in the building.

3. Bash trade and China — and believe it.

  • First, the globalists tried to get rid of trade adviser Peter Navarro. Then they sidelined him — hoping they could leave him with his arcane anti-China charts in the bureaucratic Siberia of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
  • Even Navarro’s friends thought he was cooked when he was forced, under Kelly’s regime, to endure the humiliation of copying Gary Cohn on all his emails. But Navarro survived and is now ascendant.
  • Why? Because Trump likes to hear from somebody who agrees with him, especially on the issue on which he has the most hardwired beliefs.
  • When the topic of trade would come up in an Oval Office discussion, if Navarro wasn’t in the room, Trump would ask: “Where’s Peter?” Now, Trump is exorcising his tariff demons and Navarro has outlasted Cohn.

4. Be family — either literally (like Ivanka) or figuratively (like Hope Hicks).

  • “Never bet against the children,” one source close to Trump told us. And while Jared and Ivanka have taken a drubbing internally and in the press, still they survive. They outlasted Corey Lewandowski. They outlasted Paul Manafort. They outlived Reince Priebus and their most bitter internal enemy Steve Bannon.
  • And while investigative clouds continue to hang over Kushner, it’s hard to imagine Trump forcing his daughter and son-in-law to go back to Manhattan, no matter how happy that might make Kelly or some of their other West Wing colleagues.
  • Other staff who become like family are untouchable. The only one of the campaign originals who's left, after Hicks had her last day yesterday, is social media director Dan Scavino. He answers to nobody but POTUS, and tweets without restraint.

5. Look and play the part.

  • Trump treats his top jobs like a casting agent would. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a four-star Marine general, looks to Trump like someone who should be running the Pentagon.
  • Indeed, he loves to say that people are “straight out of Central Casting” — and he means it as a compliment.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Countries where novel coronavirus cases are falling may be hit with a "second peak" if they relax restrictions too soon, World Health Organization emergencies chief Mike Ryan warned during a briefing Monday. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up," he added.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,498,849 — Total deaths: 346,306 — Total recoveries — 2,233,180Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,662,768 — Total deaths: 98,223 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.