On Monday morning Donald Trump sought, via Twitter, to reassure a troubled nation: “No WH chaos!”
For six blissful hours, there was calm in sunny Washington. Then the news broke that White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci had been ousted after just 10 days. The chaos was back with a vengeance.
“The Mooch” got his marching orders from newly appointed chief of staff John Kelly, a four-star marine general whose experience in Iraq suddenly seems invaluable for this White House: now a melee of competing actors, rival factions and complex alliances fighting for territory.
As it happened, minutes after the Mooch’s fate was sealed, Trump and Kelly were in the east room of the White House to award a medal of honor to a veteran army medic who served in Vietnam. What should have been a solemn ceremony suddenly felt cheapened.
Scaramucci burned twice as bright and half as long; he had not even been formally sworn in to his new position. He reportedly had the backing of fellow New Yorkers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. He was described by Charlie Sykes, a conservative commentator, as “Trump’s id”.
Evidently Kelly determined that Trump’s id has no place in the White House. Scaramucci’s vulgar, expletive-riddled interview with the New Yorker magazine last week was a sackable offence, especially in the eyes of a military man looking to instil some old-fashioned discipline. Among other things, the Mooch proved himself a communications director who did not grasp the rules of “off the record”.
When Trump’s White House came into being, there was a readily identifiable three-way struggle for power between the family, the party establishment and the alt-right disruptors.
Where does the power struggle within the White House stand now? One of Scaramucci’s targets in that interview, chief of staff Reince Priebus (“a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac”), was ousted last week, perceived by the president as weak, thus severing another link with the Republican party establishment. But another target, Steve Bannon, may suddenly have got a reprieve, preserving an influential nationalist/Breitbart voice in the administration.
The Republican establishment may yet pick itself up off the canvas too. Sean Spicer had felt compelled to announce his resignation when Scaramucci erupted on the scene on 21 July. But he has not left yet and could potentially be persuaded to take on the communications director role. As a military man himself, it might appeal to his sense of duty.
Scaramucci’s blowout raises fresh questions over the judgment of Ivanka and her husband, although their presence, along with national economic adviser Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, ensures the so-called New York Democrats will remain a force.
It has long been said that Trump’s White House needs an injection of “grown-ups”. Scaramucci, a verbal brawler from Wall Street who channeled the president’s ego, clearly wasn’t it. The sober Kelly might be. But he faces a Rubik’s cube of battling constituencies, full of personal and political conflicts and “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” attitudes. And then there is Trump’s mercurial temperament and 24-hour Twitter trigger.
As for the Mooch, it was one of the briefest White House careers in history. But it is safe to say he has left his mark on American history and satire. As someone once sang: “Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot.”