By Kevin Bailey
It’s all coming undone. With RussiaGate, Jeff Sessions lying under oath, Trump accidentally reading a TelePromptEr well (and then melting down on Twitter only a couple days later), Sean Spicer in particular seems to be coming unhinged. His fury at the plethora of leaks–and the draconian steps he is willing to take to stop them–has itself begun to leak to the wider press, where Politico reveals the random phone checks that I disclosed in a previous “Dispatches From Inside” column a couple weeks ago. Even in that column though, I held back many of the more salacious details that TP (the initials stand for “The Person”, not his/her actual name) told me, simply because I felt they wouldn’t be believed. In this column, I will begin the process of “emptying the notebook” of many (maybe most) of those details.
First I should say, I hope TP will talk anonymously to someone with more clout than me. I have received direct messages on Twitter from a journalist who is interested. But TP is very worried, and the environment inside Trump’s White House is far too toxic. The most shocking thing for me now is this: it has finally reached the point where TP wishes Hillary Clinton would have won. And if you have read my previous “Dispatches”, TP was a loyal supporter only five weeks ago. In fact, the first contact TP made with me was a bit “gloating” for lack of a better word. Personally, I found this transformation utterly shocking.
Please understand, TP still despises Hillary Clinton, but has become convinced that Donald Trump is actually clinically insane. And bear in mind as I recount these stories, that TP was not a first-hand witness to all (or even most) of it. These are rumors that have been passed around among staff members, though a few were things seen directly by TP. I will, however, not be delineating between these incidents in the telling of them, as that could give Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, et al more information than I care to provide about TP’s identity.
First, the phone checks are widely believed to be a ruse, intended to deflect from the identity of the real “heavy hitter” leaker(s). Some staffers believe it is Steve Bannon himself who has done some of the biggest leaking. In fact, Sean Spicer likely believes that as well, as the leaks that have been damaging to Bannon have been (according to TP) “retaliatory strikes” that seem to emanate from in and around Spicer’s team. There is antagonism between nearly every top aide to Trump, but the amount of antipathy Spicer holds for Bannon was described as “the fiery fury of a dozen burning hells.” The battle basically comes down to Bannon’s leak network within the alt-right media and Spicer’s (assumed) leak network within the regular media members.
In the battle, though, both men have lost in a key way: no staffers–save the very inner-circle close to each man–trust Bannon or Spicer. TP said that Bannon is seen as a Svengali to Trump, steering him in directions Trump might not otherwise have turned. Staffers see Spicer–and Reince Priebus as well–as out of touch and a bit unmoored. Both struck a Faustian bargain of sorts with Bannon/Trump and the alt-right, with some fairly wild rumors as to why they stay when neither man likes or respects Bannon/Trump. These rumors center around both Russian hacking of the RNC, as well as information Trump has gathered using his own private security force.
The most salacious detail I feel comfortable sharing is also with regards to the Spicer/Bannon relationship. Not long ago, Bannon walked into Spicer’s office and made some sort of cutting, sarcastic remark about something Spicer had fumbled in a press conference earlier in the day. Apparently Spicer became visibly angry, and a staffer who was in the office at the time had to keep Spicer from going after Bannon. As he walked away, Bannon sort of laughed, and Spicer was “visibly shaking” from the conversation. Spicer had to be talked out of making a “him or me” statement to Trump regarding Bannon. Apparently, Priebus sees Spicer as indispensable, and knew Trump would not pick him in such an ultimatum.
The hope among some staffers is that Trump’s meltdown will end with either Mike Pence or Paul Ryan as president, though there is a fear that Trump will fight it until the bitter end, even once RussiaGate completely subsumes his presidency. There are clear factions now established within the White House, with very little productive communication happening between the factions. TP does believe that more and more low- and mid-level staffers no longer believe in Trump, and wish there was a way to quit. No one feels comfortable doing so, as they fear Trump’s private security team would dig up (or even invent) dirt on them, in an attempt to ruin their lives. TP says a claustrophobic, cult-like feeling has descended on the White House.
Ultimately, the series of unhinged tweets sent out by Trump on Saturday morning demonstrate once more that he is, in fact, a lamentably loutish lunatic. Yet those tweets are but a public reflection of the complete chaos unfolding behind the scenes in Trump’s White House. Staffers, from those on the higher rungs, to those on the lowest, have no idea from one day to the next who is forming the message–or even what that message really is, for that matter. The Trump Administration seems to be in an unrecoverable death spiral, with the various “first officers” as it were arguing about who gets to talk first with the “captain”–all while the “plane” is irretrievably lost. TP is not confident that even Pence escapes the crash. When asked to put a percentage on who would be president at this time next year, the answer stunned me: “I would put the odds at 50% Paul Ryan, 44% Mike Pence, 5% Orrin Hatch, 1% Trump.”
These are very dark times. A staffer inside the White House thinks there is a better chance for Hatch (the president pro tempore of the Senate) to be President of the United States in one year than for the actual president to remain in the position. When I first started writing these “Dispatches”, I viewed it as sort of a fun little “gossip column” to break the unrelenting awfulness of the actual administration. I no longer view this column so glibly.
May God protect our Republic.