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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/12/17

Reince... We Hardly Knew Ye

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From Down With Tyranny


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Yesterday, the Washington Post published what everyone in DC is thinking, namely that "Trump enters week seven of his presidency the same as the six before it: enmeshed in controversy while struggling to make good on his campaign promises. At a time when the White House had sought to ride the momentum from Trump's speech to Congress and begin advancing its agenda on Capitol Hill, the administration finds itself beset yet again by disorder and suspicion.

At the center of the turmoil is an impatient president increasingly frustrated by his administration's inability to erase the impression that his campaign was engaged with Russia, to stem leaks about both national security matters and internal discord and to implement any signature achievements... That angst over what many in the White House call the "deep state" is fermenting daily, fueled by rumors and tidbits picked up by Trump allies within the intelligence community and by unconfirmed allegations that have been made by right-wing commentators. The "deep state" is a phrase popular on the right for describing entrenched networks hostile to Trump... Funny, I always thought the Deep State described entrenched networks hostile to progressives and to anyone fighting against what Trump stands for.

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And Bannon and his faction, now clearly dominant in the White House, are making certain all the blame for the chaos and disorder falls on the hapless Reince Priebus, a kind of Insider who's an outsider among the neo-Nazi true-believers surrounding and manipulating Trump. Friday morning's Trump meltdown over Jeff Sessions recusing himself has everyone buzzing that someone's going to be fired. Alex Isenstadt is always a good source for well-sourced Beltway gossip and he wrote yesterday that "With the White House struggling to gain its footing almost two months into Donald Trump's presidency, administration officials are increasingly putting the blame on one person: Reince Priebus."

Isenstadt's sources all blame poor Reince, an ally of the hated Paul Ryan, who White House sources describe disdainfully as "a micro-manager who sprints from one West Wing meeting to another, inserting himself into conversations big and small and leaving many staffers feeling as if he's trying to block their access to Trump. They vented about his determination to fill the administration with his political allies. And they expressed alarm at what they say are directionless morning staff meetings Priebus oversees that could otherwise be used to rigorously set the day's agenda and counterbalance the president's own unpredictability.

The finger-pointing further complicates life in an already turmoil-filled West Wing, one that has been hobbled by dueling power centers and unclear lines of command... Trump is said to be unhappy that Priebus tries to keep Putin stooges like Corey Lewandowski away from the White House -- for Trump's own good -- and the so-called president goes out of his way to circumvent his chief of staff and invite the Putin squad in for secret meetings that Priebus doesn't get asked to sit in on.

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"There's a real frustration among many -- including from the president -- that things aren't going as smoothly as one had hoped," said one senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "Reince, fairly or not, is likely to take the blame and take the fault for that."

"It's sheer incompetence," said another White House official. "There's a lack of management, and a lack of strategy."

The White House vigorously disputed the notion that Priebus is losing the confidence of senior West Wing staff. Senior officials say the president respects the chief of staff for his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, and that no staff shakeup is expected in the immediate future.

...It is unfair to finger Priebus alone for the administration's missteps. Much of the fault can be assigned to the president himself -- a notoriously unpredictable figure who relishes drama. Priebus himself has been caught off guard by a number of controversies -- the latest on Saturday, when he awoke to a series of Trump tweets, some of which accused former President Barack Obama, without evidence, of wiretapping Trump Tower phone lines.

The staff scrambled throughout the day to craft a statement that didn't anger the president but also didn't create any further headaches. Priebus has frequently lamented that he can't control the president's comments and spends much of his time in damage-control mode.

And despite the scrutiny focused on him, Priebus has won credit inside the White House for helping to engineer the roll-out of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and playing a central role in overseeing Trump's well-received congressional address last week.

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The focus on Priebus comes at a time of growing distress for the president, who has taken to asking Cabinet members and White House officials for their thoughts on how his chief of staff is performing. Priebus did not accompany Trump on a trip this weekend to Florida, an absence that left many wondering whether Trump, who complained loudly to top aides during a tense Oval Office meeting on Friday over how things in his White House were going, had put his chief of staff in the doghouse.

Some contended that, in such a free-wheeling atmosphere, Priebus has struggled to provide structure. Several aides expressed unhappiness with the daily 8 a.m. senior staff meeting that he runs out of his office. With three flat-screen TVs usually on, the agenda is sometimes driven by that day's news programs. The gatherings, which often last only 15 to 20 minutes, are typically organized round-robin style, with department heads giving 30-second updates on whatever it is they're working on.

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Reince... We Hardly Knew Ye