In another post this morning I asked “Who is left to take a bullet for Trump?” In a different way of expressing it, John Cassidy in the New Yorker asks Are the Rats Preparing to Jump Off the Trump Ship?
What motivates our questions is the on-again, off-again attempt by Trump to replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelley with Nick Ayers, the young chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence. Trump was well along toward making the announcement when Ayers “spurned” the President.
Even in this news-addled Trump era, Sunday afternoon usually marks a lull: a time for reporters and politicos to indulge their social-media habits by tweeting about football, or even, perish the thought, to spend some time with their families. Not this week. Just before 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, the political class was jerked back to attention when Nick Ayers, the youthful chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence, let it be known on Twitter that he had turned down the chance to replace John Kelly as the White House chief of staff. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House,” Ayers wrote. “I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #maga team to advance the cause. #Georgia.”
That triggered a bout of damage control. For instance, KellyAnne Conway, explained: "Those of us with young kids very well understand the personal decision he made.”
To say that the inhabitants of the media-political bubble greeted this explanation with skepticism would be an understatement. Summing up the general reaction, John Podhoretz, the New York Post columnist and editor of Commentary, said on MSNBC, “That’s a lot of crap. I don’t know Nick Ayers. I’m not saying he’s a liar, but people don’t get offered the White House chief-of-staff job very often. He was the Vice-President’s chief of staff. This is the center of the action. This is the red-hot center of world politics and world power. And he is going back to Georgia after being the chief of staff to the less-important guy? I am not buying it.”
Neither am I, John. Regardless of Ayers’s personal situation, the takeaway here is that a savvy, ambitious young Republican—one with strong links to the donor class that plays such a key role in the Party—has spurned the President. This just two days after federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said that Trump had directed Michael Cohen, his former fixer and personal lawyer, to carry out two campaign-finance felonies, and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, said that Cohen had provided his team with“useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation.”
In a party in which allegiance to Trump among many elected officials has long been based on fear and self-interest rather than any genuine liking, this decision sends an alarming signal to Trump and his allies. After all, Ayers wasn’t in any sense an outsider. According to all reports, he had a good relationship with Trump, and with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who supported his promotion to Kelly’s job. If a figure this connected has decided to hop off the Trump train—or at least to move to a carriage farther back—how long will it be before other Republicans follow his lead?
Steve Bannon is warning that it might not take long at all. Over the weekend, the former Trump strategist told the Washington Post that 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” for the White House, and he went on, “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts… . They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.”
Bannon isn’t a wholly reliable observer, of course. But, in this instance, what he said may well be true. Trump didn’t win over the Republican Party: he conquered it. And, over the weekend, in the wake of Mueller Friday, there was a notable shortage of senior Republicans coming to the President’s defense.
The task was largely left to Senator Rand Paul, a longtime critic of the Russia probe, and Chris Christie, an ally of the President. And even Christie, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the White House chief-of-staff job, wasn’t all that reassuring. Appearing on “ABC News This Week,” the former New Jersey governor, who also served for eight years as a federal prosecutor, conceded that if he were one of the President’s lawyers he would be concerned about the Southern District’s sentencing memorandum. “The language sounds very definite, and what I’d be concerned about is, what corroboration do they have?” he said.
From what I’ve observed, my guess is that prosecutors have substantial corroboration.
Another potential nominee, reported this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, is (gasp) KellyAnne Conway, spouse of frequent Trump critic, George Conway. Really.
Surreally, already another potential candidate for the CoS job has not survived one of Trump’s tantrums reports New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz: Trump Names TV Remote New Chief of Staff.
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Having been turned down by several previous choices for the job, Donald J. Trump broke with tradition on Monday by picking his television remote to be his new chief of staff.
While some in Washington wondered whether an inanimate object was up to the rigors of working for the mercurial Trump, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended the unorthodox selection. “The President and the remote have demonstrated an excellent ability to work together, often for ten or twelve hours a day,” Sanders said.
But even as the White House touted the remote’s qualifications, its tenure as chief of staff appeared to get off to a rocky start on Monday morning.
After the remote got stuck and failed to change the channel when CNN’s Jim Acosta appeared on the television screen, Trump reportedly threw his new chief of staff across the room, narrowly missing Mike Pence’s head.
“I’ll be surprised if the remote makes it through the year,” a White House source said.
The remote would be well advised to follow Ayers and take the Trump Jump.