But White House insiders differ on whether the president has changed — or they have.
Former Trump White House officials and other Republicans close to the White House are increasingly worried about President Trump’s erratic behavior and say there are no longer enough safeguards around him to prevent self-inflicted disasters large and small.
Just in the last two weeks, Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria and attacked America’s Kurdish allies as “no angels,” sparking outrage among GOP lawmakers; released a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose undiplomatic language was widely mocked; called his former defense secretary “the world’s most overrated general”; and blew up at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a meeting his own White House had called.
His acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, also admitted on national television that the administration had held up aid to Ukraine for political purposes, before reversing himself hours later on Trump’s orders and claiming his remarks had been “misconstrued.”
Under the strain of a metastasizing impeachment probe on Capitol Hill and helming an administration run by a diminishing number of heavyweight officials of independent stature, the president is displaying the kind of capricious behavior that once might have been contained or at least mitigated, former officials say.
“The wheels are not off the car. The situation is way worse than that. The car has been impounded and we are now waiting to figure out what the fine is and to see whether or not we’re going to get the car back,” said former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. “Mulvaney is a good Catholic and in fairness to him, that was a full-blown Catholic confessional on Thursday afternoon.”
Trump has never felt shackled by traditional ways of running a government. But earlier in his administration, “there was enough guardrails around Trump or enough caution on his part that when he did things that were more impulsive, they had less significance and fewer external ramifications,” said a former White House official.
Now it’s become more of a one-man White House and government.
Trying to constrain Trump is “a pipe dream,” said one current White House official. “Everyone who has tried had eventually failed in some way.”
There is also a concern among Trump alums and other Republicans close to the White House about the current quality of the White House staff. Unlike past officials who occasionally stood up to Trump, redirected his fury or learned which of his whims they could safely ignore, today’s crop of aides are more willing to indulge his basic political needs and desires, they say.
The letter to Erdogan is a case in point, former officials note: It shows that Trump is more directly in charge of what goes on at the White House than ever before.
“You wouldn’t have a letter to a foreign leader that was just like dictated on the back of a napkin by him,” said the former official. “He’s even more personally and individually in the driver’s seat and doing things on his own.”
Veteran Trump aides differ as to whether, and to what extent, the president’s recent behavior is truly new. “Essentially it’s him doing what he wants, just as it was in the beginning, and now, and forever,” one former White House official said.
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