As Trump prepares for his holiday respite in Florida, he is more isolated than ever

Christie has maintained a cordial and clear-eyed relationship with the president. Though he carries some political baggage from his time as governor, he had credentials that few of the others considered for the chief of staff position could offer — skills that Trump likely will need in the year ahead. Among them were

  • executive experience,
  • political experience,
  • communications skills,
  • independent political relationships and, above all,
  • legal experience as a former U.S. attorney.

.. Christie apparently concluded this was no time to go inside the Trump administration and to work for a president who rarely takes the advice of his advisers and whose volatility and unpredictability could prove to be even more detrimental in the months ahead.

.. The decisions by Ayers, Christie and others underscore the precariousness of Trump’s position. At a time when he will need all the strength, wisdom, firepower and support directly around him, Trump presides over a White House that is thinning out rather than beefing up.

.. The White House Counsel’s Office is understaffed heading into a year that could bring multiple requests for documents from congressional committees and the possibility of impeachment proceedings, if what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ultimately reports rises to that level. So far that is an open question. Others already have moved out of the White House to jobs on the Trump 2020 campaign or the private sector. More could follow in the months ahead.

.. Some loyalists remain. Among them are

  • Kellyanne Conway,
  • Sarah Sanders, and the president’s daughter
  • Ivanka Trump and son-in-law
  • Jared Kushner.

But on the issue of fresh recruits, the question is: Who would want to come to work for a president at this moment, knowing that could result in sizable legal fees as a side benefit?

.. For Trump, a group of people he once counted as among his most trusted advisers has been turned into a weapon in the hands of prosecutors

.. Another person who once protected the president and is now on the other side is David Pecker, of American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer

.. Equally worrisome for Trump could be the role of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and the person who must know as much as anyone about the inner financial workings of Trump’s empire. He has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation.

The Ayers campaign

There’s an oft-broken rule of self-effacement among political staffers, one Nick Ayers and the Pawlenty campaign smashed it resolutely this morning with an email that was rather more about Ayers than his candidate, and an item suggesting his move was a death knell for Haley Barbour, his former boss.

The Post’s Jennifer Rubin reports this morning that she was “told by those involved in the process that Ayers, 28, who served alongside Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour at the RGA, was waiting for Barbour, the candidate with whom he is closest, to make up his mind on whether to run. Now that Ayers has accepted a spot with Pawlenty, the chances of a Barbour presidential race have plunged. It may also be that Barbour’s extremely rocky start, overshadowed by his views on race, persuaded Ayers not to join him.”

Ayers, in his own email, writes a bit as though he’s the one who will be running for president:

I accepted the position with peace of mind and a deep confidence in the candidate, his family, and the mission ahead, but it was not an easy decision. I did not believe I would join a presidential campaign this cycle for a few reasons. Jamie and I wanted nothing more than to enjoy a quiet few years back home in Georgia with our friends, family, and church that we have missed so much while in Washington at the RGA. I was confident and hopeful Georgia would be the place where we would be permanently after the 2010 cycle. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time back in our home state since December. Running a presidential campaign would obviously pull us away from that.

Also, opportunities in the private sector were serious and abundant and would have allowed me to achieve a degree of personal financial security that my family has not yet had (at least as much financial security as any of us can have during the Obama presidency).

Last, I have other personal friends in addition to Governor Pawlenty that I respect who are running for president, or seriously considering it. The thought of making a public decision about supporting one of them I presumed would be difficult.

These factors and others had virtually ruled out my engagement into a presidential campaign. It was going to be much easier to sit on the sidelines in Georgia, enjoy the fruits of the private sector, and cheer on all of my friends as they jostled for the Republican nomination for president. That path would have been politically safe, financially sound, and personally very comforting. But it was not the right one.

Over the past six months, I have prayed deeply about my purpose in life and how best to utilize the talents God has given me. I wanted my decision to be wholly about how best to serve Him, not what was most politically or financially expedient for my family and me. As He often does in walks of faith, He has called me to a higher purpose. I believe that our Nation is truly on the wrong path. We need a new direction that is positive and hopeful. Simply said, we need new leadership. I believe that Governor Pawlenty is best positioned to provide that leadership. Therefore, I am pleased today to join Governor and Mrs. Pawlenty in their pursuit of the presidency.

My decision does not mean I think less of Haley Barbour, Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels or Newt Gingrich should they decide to run, because I do not. I know them all personally and believe in their intellect, capabilities, and principles.

The Most Powerful Reject in the World

Is there anyone who wants to hang with Donald Trump?

He’s not wanted.

Not at funerals, though the Bush family, to show class and respect for tradition, held their noses and made an exception.

Not in England, where they turned him into a big, hideous blimp.

Not by moderate Republicans, or at least the shrinking club with a tenuous claim to that label, who pushed him away during the midterms as they fought for their survival and clung to their last shreds of self-respect.

And not by a 36-year-old Republican operative who is by most accounts the apotheosis of vanity and ambition — and who just turned down one of the most powerful roles in any administration, a job that welds you to the president’s side and gives you nearly unrivaled access to his thoughts.

Nick Ayers didn’t see enough upside to the welding. He could do without those thoughts. He said no to becoming Trump’s next chief of staff, and this wasn’t just the latest twist in “As The White House Turns.”

It was, really, the whole story — of a president who burns quickly through whatever good will he has, a president who represents infinitely more peril than promise, a president toward whom a shockingly small and diminishing number of people in Washington feel any real affection, a president more tolerated than respected, though even the tolerance wanes.

.. He’s forever fixated on how wanted he is (“My crowds!” “My ratings!”), but what’s more striking is how unwanted he is. And that’s not merely a function of the crests and dips that every president encounters. It’s not really about popularity at all.

.. It’s about how he behaves — and the predictable harvest of all that nastiness. While other presidents sought to hone the art of persuasion, he revels in his talent for repulsion: how many people he attacks (he styles this as boldness); how many people he offends (he pretties this up as authenticity); how many people he sends into exile.

.. Careerists who would normally pine for top jobs with a president assess his temper, behold his tweets, recall the mortifications of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, and run for the hills. Trump sits at the most coveted desk in the world, but almost no one wants to pull up a chair.

.. What happened with Ayers, who is finishing a stint as Mike Pence’s chief of staff, speaks pointedly to the president’s diminished state. Bear in mind that Trump had already started telling people that Ayers would succeed John Kelly as chief of staff, so Ayers’s decision was doubly humiliating. Bear in mind who Ayers is: not just any political climber but someone whose every breath is focused on his enhanced glory, a trait frequently mentioned by Republicans who have watched his rise (and who sense in him more than a bit of Trump).

They still groan and titter about the blast email that he sent out, unsolicited, after he signed on to manage Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. It crowed about all the riches in the private sector that he was passing over. It hinted that his services had been sought by Pawlenty’s competitors: Sorry, guys. It assumed a broad, edge-of-seat audience for the minutiae of his mulling and maneuvering. In fact there were news stories that mockedthe self-aggrandizement of his announcement.

.. At most other times, under most other presidents, someone like Ayers would jump at chief of staff, no matter the job’s infamous rigors. It catapulted such political heavyweights as Dick Cheney, James Baker, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel to greater recognition and relevance.

.. So Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump counted on Ayers’s interest and connived to shove Kelly out — he’ll leave by year’s end — so that they could shimmy Ayers in. They counted wrong. Ever clueless and oh so useless, they didn’t adequately factor in Trump’s toxicity, and the president now looks every bit as isolated as he is.

.. “Trump was left at the altar,”

.. Administration officials like Steven Mnuchin and Mick Mulvaney practically put out news releases to make clear that Trump shouldn’t ask them to be chief of staff. He has no Plan B, just B-list options like Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general.

.. As leaders go, he has never been much of a magnet. He unequivocally romped in the Republican primaries, but since then? He got nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did, a gap so remarkable that he had to claim a conspiracy of illegal voting to console himself. When he first filled his cabinet, he hardly had his pick of the litter.

Many top Republicans wanted no part of him. Some who did enter the administration agonized beforehand: Were they helping the country or indulging someone who didn’t deserve it?

When Barbara Bush died in April, it was clear to Trump that he shouldn’t travel to Texas to pay his respects. When John McCain died in August, Trump was told to skip the funeral.

The heads of countries that share America’s purported values (pre-Trump, at least) reproach and recoil from him. Prominent corporate leaders rebuke him, despite his administration’s business-friendly policies.

.. By one analysis of the midterms, the overall vote count for Democratic candidates for the House was 8.6 percentage points higher than for Republican candidates.

His wife takes public shots at him. Old friends tattle to prosecutors; new friends don’t exist. Talk about a twist: He sought the presidency, as so many others surely did, because it’s the ultimate validation. But it has given him his bitterest taste yet of rejection.

Pence Chief of Staff Nick Ayers Won’t Be Next White House Staff Chief

The uncertainty surrounding the chief-of-staff job reflects a record-setting turnover in the White House’s senior ranks. Whoever succeeds Mr. Kelly will be the third chief of staff in the president’s first two years.

Two of the candidates are Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), a Trump ally, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Trump Weighs Replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly in White House Shake-Up

The first to go is expected to be the deputy national security adviser, Mira Ricardel, who has clashed with First Lady Melania Trump. Mr. Trump is also leaning toward the ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is a close ally of Mr. Kelly, White House officials said. The president has decided to replace Ms. Nielsen, but hasn’t finalized the timing, White House officials said, in part because there isn’t an obvious candidate to replace her.

.. The president often games out multiple staffing scenarios with advisers, including months of talking about whether to replace Mr. Kelly. While those discussions often signal impending changes, that is not always the case.This is how the president works,” one White House official said. “He’s doused a bunch of people in gasoline and he’s waiting for someone to light a match.”

.. A rift emerged after Mrs. Trump staff’s battled with Ms. Ricardel during the first lady’s trip to Africa last month over seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources, according to people familiar with the matter. The first lady’s team also told Mr. Trump that they suspect Ms. Ricardel is behind some negative stories about Mrs. Trump and her staff.

The first lady’s office issued a statement on Tuesday calling for Ms. Ricardel to be dismissed. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump.

.. Late Tuesday, one White House official pushed back against the criticism but offered no assurances about Ms. Ricardel’s job security.

“Mira Ricardel is one of the highest ranking women in the Trump administration,” the official said. And she “has never met the first lady.”

Ms. Ricardel also repeatedly clashed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Pentagon team over staffing decisions and policy differences, according to people familiar with the feud.

.. Ms. Ricardel has served as a vital ally for Mr. Bolton since he took the national security job in April. He resisted efforts by Mr. Kelly to force her out, including when the chief of staff cited Mrs. Trump’s concerns two weeks ago, the officials said. Mrs. Trump and her staff then discussed the issue with the president during the trip to Paris, White House officials said. Mr. Trump told his wife that he would have Ms. Ricardel removed, the officials said.Mr. Bolton, meanwhile, has been among those pushing for Ms. Nielsen’s ouster, officials said. The Washington Post reported Mr. Trump’s decision to remove Ms. Nielsen on Monday.

.. One reason: The White House has no one ready to nominate, and there are succession questions at Homeland Security. The administration has yet to replace Elaine Duke, who resigned as the deputy secretary in February.
.. Mr. Trump also has soured on Kevin McAleenan, who is commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
 .. One source of tension between Mr. Bolton and Ms. Nielsen stemmed from a plan she raised to deal with the migrant caravan heading to the U.S.-Mexico border. Ms. Nielsen raised the possibility of asking the United Nations refugee agency to set up camps on the Mexico side of the border to house the migrants, said to people familiar with the talks.Mr. Bolton pointedly dismissed the idea as unworkable and misguided, a response that irked Ms. Nielsen and triggered a forceful defense from Mr. Kelly, these people said. Mr. Kelly asked Mr. Bolton what he thought would be a better approach, and Mr. Bolton said he would discuss it directly with the president, one of these people said.

.. In a meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump further aggravated Mr. Kelly by suggesting that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser, use his contacts in the Mexican government to try to resolve the caravan issue. “Let’s get Jared involved; he’s our best guy on this,” Mr. Trump said.

.. In recent days, Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Ayers in the present tense as his chief of staff, one White House official said. Mr. Trump has told officials he expects to offer Mr. Ayers the job when Mr. Kelly leaves

 

Yes, Steve Bannon Should Terrify You

a new protégé, Michael Grimm, who is hoping to reclaim, from a fellow Republican, the congressional seat that he had to vacate a few years back when he was convicted of felony tax fraud and sent off to the clink. Bannon apparently wants to help.

Why? Excellent question. Grimm’s botched effort to enrich himself by hiding $1 million of his restaurant-business earnings doesn’t exactly scream populism.

.. Bannon’s real intent, which is to inflict as much pain and ugliness on the G.O.P. as he can. He’s not an ideologue. He’s an arsonist. And he doesn’t care who or what is reduced to ashes.

.. For Bannon, Moore is an instrument of torture, and after he won the Republican primary less than two weeks ago, Bannon and his allies made clear that the scheming and dark fun had only just begun.

.. Nick Ayers, who is Mike Pence’s chief of staff. According to an audiotape obtained by Politico, he recently urged major Republican donors to “purge” Trump-bucking lawmakers by denying them any money and instead funding Republican challengers.

.. “Republicans’ two toughest Senate races — Nevada and Arizona — are winnable with the incumbents but are going to be very, very rough if the Bannon-backed candidates are the nominees.”

.. “Republicans’ two toughest Senate races — Nevada and Arizona — are winnable with the incumbents but are going to be very, very rough if the Bannon-backed candidates are the nominees.”

.. Moore, McDaniel and Grimm aren’t perfect ideological companions, but they’re chaos candidates, and if they manage to get to Congress and the G.O.P. maintains its majorities there, heaven help us all. Just think about what they’ll inject into the formal debate on Capitol Hill; just think about how much further they’ll warp it. It could make the Tea Party’s ascent in 2010 seem tame.