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White House turmoil rankles Washington more than Trump


At the start of Trump’s third week in office, top advisers are trying to move beyond the infighting and feuds inside the West Wing, which have alarmed Republicans and official Washington far more than the President himself.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is asserting more authority to run things, administration officials say, in hopes of trying to “keep things running smoothly” after a rocky — and active — first two weeks.

The administration has privately pledged to do a better job of keeping relevant government agencies and congressional allies in the loop when rolling out executive actions and legislative priorities — a far cry from the sloppy implementation of Trump’s travel ban. That experience left aides cringing at the public beating they were taking, and personally irritated Trump.

“The first 10 days there’s a bit of learning the ropes for any incoming administration,” said Jason Miller, a former spokesman for Trump’s presidential campaign. “They’re going to be finding their sea legs and getting everything nailed down.”

Privately, lobbyists, congressional staffers and other GOP political operatives said they’re dubious that an orderly White House is on the horizon.

“I just don’t see how the leopard changes his spots,” said one GOP operative, who declined to be named because this person didn’t want to appear to be rooting against the President. “He got to the job by drinking rocket fuel, and now people are wondering if he can sit down and delegate and be a responsible executive.”

Within the White House, Trump’s team has been more intent on quashing stories about turf wars and internal conflict than actually resolving them, said a top Republican close to the administration.

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This Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity to frankly discuss internal workings of the administration, said any suggestion that all conflicts between Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon have been eliminated are mistaken.

And that doesn’t much matter to Trump. He operates easily in tumultuous environments. When disagreements arise, staffers tend to duke it out before they head to the Oval Office, keeping most of the discord from Trump’s view.

The turmoil surrounding Trump has often been ascribed to whichever aide has his ear at the time. Priebus’s style is more cautious; he cares about the details. Bannon favors disruptive action and isn’t fazed by a little public outcry if it’s in pursuit of sweeping change.

But the reality is the frenzied pace — and now the cycle of chaos to calm — is mostly driven by Trump, according to people close to him.

The President’s priority was to move quickly to deliver on bold promises he made on the campaign trail. When he saw the backlash over the travel ban, he aimed to correct the process by tapping Priebus to run point going forward.

It’s a cyclical pattern that Republicans close to the White House predict will dominate at least the first year of his administration.

“We’ve been punked enough times,” said one Republican operative in Washington, who spoke anonymously because this person works with the White House. “The only thing that can change him is the weight of the office. And hopefully it begins to weigh on him.”

Trump may be largely immune to this kind of volatility, but everyone surrounding him is not. A number of former campaign staffers are seeking job opportunities within government agencies — even as positions within the White House remain unfilled — to distance themselves from the “West Wing circus,” according to a person familiar with the situation.

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Still, a disorganized White House doesn’t necessarily mean an unproductive one. Trump has largely delivered action on issues he campaigned upon. He chose a conservative Supreme Court justice from a list he had previously released. He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, took steps to build a wall along the southern border and attempted to press pause on refugee programs.

“I know there was a flap over the immigrants but, you see, that didn’t play here. There were no demonstrators at the Johnstown airport,” said Rob Gleason, the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “People see it as protecting them.”

For the most part, Gleason hears positive reviews of the president in Pennsylvania. “I think he’s done pretty well for a new group of people who don’t know the pitfalls,” he said.

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Much of the country takes a less charitable view of Trump’s presidential debut. Some 53% said they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the job, according to a new CNN/ORC poll — the highest disapproval rating for a new president since the tracking began.

Still, Trump, at 70 years old, has little incentive to change the approach he embraced in business and on the campaign trail.

While he believes the communications could have been stronger and less tumultuous in rolling out some early policies and executive orders, administration officials say he is largely satisfied with his team.

Yet, the legal fight over the immigration action, which presented Trump with his first confrontation with the limits of executive authority, has infuriated him. As he attack the federal judge over the weekend at Mar-a-lago, administration officials shook their heads back in Washington.

“No one was happy the president attacked the judge,” one official said.

Those fights are likely just beginning as his critics see the courtroom as the best venue to challenge the new president’s authority.