Rattled by President Donald Trump's increasing frustration with the staff guidance he's getting and by the administration's unforced errors, White House officials are desperately hoping the president's first foreign trip beginning on Friday offers a chance to reboot what’s become a damaging narrative.
Preparations for the trip come as Trump’s inner circle appears to be shrinking, fueling paranoia inside the West Wing among a fatigued staff battered by a drumbeat of reports suggesting some senior staffers are on the chopping block.
While some kind of shake-up appears nearly inevitable at this point, insiders caution it doesn’t seem imminent — at least, not right now. The sources quoted in this article asked for anonymity to be able to discuss internal administration conversations.
And while the usual cadre of aides — like Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and Steve Bannon — are expected to be at Trump's side for all or part of the upcoming eight-day, four-country trip, not all the president’s advisers hold the sway they once did.
Bannon’s influence, in particular, appears to be waning. Those close to him believe Bannon seems increasingly out of the loop on key issues, like the firing of former FBI director James Comey. Two administration sources say the chief strategist didn’t find out the decision was final until after it was a done deal.
Two other sources close to the president say Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, concerned about being perceived as out of the loop, has crashed West Wing meetings in an effort to stay keyed in on comings and goings. (Although another source notes Priebus has been known for “drop-ins” since early in the administration.)
As for beleaguered Press Secretary Sean Spicer: he’s been the subject of persistent firing rumors for months, but even his allies acknowledge the latest flurry of chatter feels more substantial. Multiple sources cite a growing split between Spicer and Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who made clear his displeasure with how the press shop handled the Comey firing fallout.
The president is now considering "whether or not it makes sense at this juncture to change the face of the administration,” according to one White House official. Even so, the president praised his press secretary in a Fox News interview Saturday night — perhaps a public warning shot to those leaking damaging information about Spicer.
The president, irritated by palace-intrigue leaks, has been venting his anger to confidantes about his senior aide. But those who know him caution against reading too much into those sessions: he may be blowing off steam. They also point out that Trump, who likes being seen as the ultimate arbiter, may balk at making staff changes precisely because of the headlines suggesting he may do so.
Still, if President Trump does decide to go in a different direction, he'll face another problem: “You can’t fire your senior team, or most of them, if you don’t have anybody ready to go," said one source familiar with the discussions. "They clearly don’t have anybody ready to go."