An unshackled Trump finally gets the presidency he always wanted
No longer hemmed in by aides, Trump has bent the presidency into the mold of the Trump Organization.
The China trade war, talks with the Taliban, the response to Iran after Saudi attacks, gun control, new tax legislation and a long list of other policy issues are up in the air and awaiting decisions from President Donald Trump — and him alone — heading into the 2020 election season.
In many ways, it's the presidency Trump has always wanted.
He's at the center of the action. He's fully in command. And he's keeping world leaders on edge and unsure of his next moves, all without being hemmed in by aides or the traditional strictures of a White House.
After four national security advisers, three chiefs of staff, three directors of oval office operations and five communications directors, the president is now finding the White House finally functions in a way that fits his personality. Trump doubters have largely been ousted, leaving supporters to cheer him on and execute his directives with fewer constraints than ever before.
"It is a government of one in the same way in which the Trump Organization was a company of one," said a former senior administration official.
"In the first year in office, President Trump was new to the job. He was more susceptible to advisers and advice. There were more people urging caution or trying to get him to adhere to processes," the former senior official added. "Now, there are very few people in the White House who view that as their role, or as something they want to try to do, or who even have a relationship with him."
This Presidency of One is now heading into an election year supported by campaign staffers and White House aides who are quick say Trump is the best political strategist as well as the most effective messenger, and they intend to follow his lead wherever 2020 goes.
The transformation of the Trump White House, from its early attempts at a traditional structure to its current freewheeling style, has exacted a heavy toll on his staff. But a steady stream of departures — the highest senior staff turnover of any recent president by far — has also left fewer forces trying to bend the president to the usual process of the top ranks of government.
"It's very easy, actually, to work with me. You know why it's easy? Because I make all the decisions. They don't have to work," Trump told reporters last Friday as he explained why being his national security adviser, in his mind, is now a low-key post. Trump fired his third such adviser, John Bolton, last week, and he named a new national security adviser on Wednesday morning by tweet.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney gives the president free rein to "Let Trump Be Trump," as Mulvaney has said, having seen the fate of his two predecessors, Reince Priebus and John Kelly.
The dwindling of top senior staff has left the president in the company of his family members, Mulvaney, Kellyanne Conway, Larry Kudlow, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the omnipresent Stephen Miller, who mostly focuses on immigration, current and former senior administration officials say.
In the past three years, Trump also lost several trusted aides, most of whom played no role in major policy decisions but were frequent presences. Trump trusted them. They could read his moods, and their loss has been felt throughout the building, say current and former White House aides. This includes his former bodyguard Keith Schiller, former body man John McEntee, former communications director Hope Hicks and former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who left the administration in June after morphing into more of a top adviser than a top communications aide.
To outsiders, it's felt like watching an increasingly unbound, or unleashed version of the Trump presidency.
But to many Trump allies, aides, and longtime observers, the president is showing the world the way he's always operated. Only now it has become clearer because he is receiving less pushback from staff and advisers — and has very few effective checks on his administration from Congress, the national security community or fellow Republicans.