The restart of Donald Trump’s presidency begins today, his 193rd day in office.
Or so he hopes.
Trump is coming off the worst week of his presidency, a disastrous seven days in which the infighting he stokes broke into public, the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act foundered, and Trump himself attacked his own attorney general, delivered a series of heavily political speeches that made clear his growing frustration with his current position and ousted his chief of staff Reince Priebus.
The decision to part ways with Priebus and bring on Department of Homeland Security chief John Kelly as chief of staff, all which Trump announced via Twitter late Friday, was cast by allies of the President as a much-needed reset for a White House that had lost its direction.
“To the extent that we can do more and do it more quickly in the disruptive fashion in which we’re accustomed to with Donald J. Trump, I think that having the tools in place is very important,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Kelly is, by all accounts, a highly disciplined and organized leader. The Trump White House needs that. He is also a highly decorated military man and someone Trump regards as an equal; Priebus was neither of those things. Kelly is the man Trump wanted. Priebus was the guy he accepted as, in his mind, a sop to a Republican establishment fretting over what sort of President he might be.
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The problem with all of the talk of a “reset” in the White House led by Kelly is that Donald Trump is still the President. Priebus proved ineffective at managing Trump’s erraticness – leaping from issue to issue within a single day, tweeting out things that directly contradicted his White House’s official line, fomenting competition among top staffers into a sort of blood sport.
This is, quite literally, who Trump is. He has lived his entire adult life a certain way. At 71, the idea that anyone – Kelly included – can fundamentally alter who Trump is – or who Trump is willing to be for political purposes – seems very far-fetched.
No one, ever, has wrangled Trump for any extended period of time. Sure, for a day or even a week during his first six months in office, Trump would avoid sending an inflammatory tweet or straying way, way off the teleprompter when delivering a speech. But it never lasted. He always returned to what he knows: the brash, unapologetic provocateur who is as interested in making a stir as he is in getting things done.
Trump didn’t bring in Kelly to hamstring his natural instincts. Ditto Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director who spent his first week on the job savaging Priebus (and chief strategist Steve Bannon) to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. Trump brought both men in because he sees them as equals, as men who understand who he is and will work to implement his wishes as opposed to trying to fit him into a traditional political frame.
“The thing that General Kelly should do is not try to change Donald Trump,” Corey Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s 2016 primary campaign, told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “I say you have to let Trump be Trump. That is what has made him successful over the last 30 years. That is what the American people voted for. And anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”
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That last line from Lewandowski is the most important one: “Anybody who thinks they’re going to change Donald Trump doesn’t know Donald Trump.”
That’s 100% right. It’s also why the chances of the next 193 days being any different than the past 193 days are very, very small.
Trump doesn’t look back on the past six months as a failure on his part. He views it as a failure of the experiment he undertook to play nice with the Washington establishment. He put Priebus and Priebus’ allies (Sean Spicer, Katie Walsh) in senior roles – right alongside the likes of his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner – and they failed to deliver. Their attempts to manage Trump made him angry; their inability to grind the gears of official Washington to work for him infuriated him.
The lesson Trump learned from these first six months office wasn’t that he needs to change. It was that trying to change him into a Washington figure or anything close to a traditional politician wouldn’t work. And that even if it had worked, he didn’t want to do it anyway.
To the extent Trump is “starting over” then, it is really, in his mind, a return to his roots – to who he should always have been from the start. He has put in place a team – from Kelly to Scaramucci and on down – that is much more likely to affirm and amplify his gut instincts to “let Trump be Trump” than to block them.
That is the only reset anyone watching this White House should expect. Trump isn’t going to change. Instead, he’s going to double down on being exactly who he’s always been.