It’s almost surreal how mundane it’s become that the West Wing, during Trump’s administration, is a hotbed of conflict. Warring factions spar over access to the president, they fight over policy and strategy. Many advisors hold entirely different worldviews.
In order to understand personnel decisions in the Trump White House, it’s important to understand the machinations of these factions as well as which staffers and aides belong to which group.
Check out the list below for a quick run-down (aides/staffers that have left the White House are indicated with an asterisk):
Steven Miller, Steve Bannon*, Sebastian Gorka*
Once a strong voice in the administration, the alt-right influence seems to have waned. These advisors and aides push for nationalist/populist policies. Although they did sporadically find common ground with other admin officials, their downfall was most likely do to being in conflict with almost every other group.
— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) March 8, 2018
Breitbart jealousy over jarred Kushner is larger than their web site. Steve bannon is behind the smear campaign on breitbart news. Bannon was fired from the white house after clashing with kushner.
— Thomas J. Smith (@lefty42759) February 21, 2018
Reince Priebus*, Sean Spicer*, John DeStefano, Dina Powell*, Katie Walsh*, Rob Porter*, Michael Dubke*, Tom Price*, Jeff Sessions
This group brings knowledge of political systems and conventional ways of operating an administration, which causes friction between this group and the alt-right faction. Bound by tradition and adherence to the ideals of the Republican Party, this group bristles at some of the policy suggestions supported by both the moderates and alt-right.
“Who Needs a Controversy Over the Inauguration?”: Reince Priebus Opens Up About His Six Months of Magical Thinking https://t.co/T0o6ZOewK0 Reince Priebus Sir you are the Establishment that we hate I don't care what you think or say you are the Problem and Trump is the solution
— warpsix (@warpsix) February 14, 2018
Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Keith Schiller*, Jason Greenblat, Kellyanne Conway, Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault Newman*, Anthony Scaramucci*, Hope Hicks*, Josh Raffel*
Bound to Trump by loyalty instead of ideology, these advisors and aides have the most diverse set of political leanings. They are also the most flexible when it comes to supporting specific policies (with the exception of the two Wall Street guys, Steve Mnuchin and the soon-to-depart Gary Cohn, who champion the financial sector). Some are historically Democrats while others are staunch Republicans, but all of them come to Trump’s aid and defense, even if the perceived attack is coming from other members of the administration.
The imagined power couple of Jared and Ivanka waged their snippy, passive-aggressive media war from their offices in the West Wing, leaking diligently to boot first Reince Priebus, and then Steve Bannon from the White House. https://t.co/5b3CHlIRbm
— Pete Quily (@pqpolitics) February 28, 2018
John Kelly is a liar & weak. He does not dare to go against Trump’s family. Kushner outlasted Priebus, Bannon, Lewandowski, etc
— Simayi36 (@Simayi36_strat) February 27, 2018
The “adults in the room”
H.R. McMasters, John Kelly, James Mattis
These advisors have in common a history in the military. They seem to value consistency and predictability. As chief of staff, Kelly has attempted to bring discipline to the administration by requiring all staff to follow the same rules. The alt-right group challenges this faction, seeing them as stifling populist policies. Moderate officials dislike that this group challenges unrestricted access to the president.
It's factionism like last year. Jarvanka v. Bannon/Priebus. Now it's Kushner v. Kelly/McMaster. No cohesion whatsoever because no leadership from POTUS. https://t.co/1DwJxwepGW
— Joshua Dickinson (@JoshPDickinson) February 24, 2018
Jared Kushner may have "finally met his match" in John Kelly, says one source close to the White House https://t.co/DtkOUc5eJS
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) February 21, 2018
Every time a White House position becomes vacant, the public has a glimpse at the current strength of each faction. For example, the appointment of Kelly as chief of staff (replacing establishment Republican Reince Priebus) was significant. It showed that within the White House, power had shifted away from the alt-right. Soon after his appointment, Steve Bannon and Anthony Scaramucci were both fired from the administration.
Now that Hope Hicks, a trusted advisor to Trump in addition to her role as Communications Director, is leaving the administration, the usual jockeying for position has begun.
A story of Hope's power: Last April, Hicks escorted @politicoalex and me into the Oval Office to talk to Trump. Senior staff, including Priebus, Spicer, Bannon, etc. had no idea we were in with Trump. Priebus and Spicer were particularly unhappy. Hicks didn't seem to care.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) February 28, 2018
With recent reports that members of both the “adults in the room” faction as well as the moderate faction are on the chopping block, the choice of communications director will give us some sort of signal as to the validity of those reports. If the position is eventually filled by Kelly’s top choices, it’s much more likely that he’ll be keeping his job. If he fails to even install his pick for communications director, we’ll know that his fortunes are changing, making him vulnerable for replacement.
Kelly’s top two picks are Mercedes Schlapp and Tony Sayegh, both long-time establishment Republicans with experience in politics and governing.
There is also a broad internal base of support for press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take on the job, adding overall messaging strategy and the management of a 40-person team to her current portfolio, which includes regular televised briefings. Sanders has expressed some hesitation about taking on both roles, but allies say she is considering it.
Independent of the final choice, which may take months, this entire process will still be a fascinating window into the inner workings of the chaotic Trump administration.
Featured image: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty