Donald Trump is breaking records! Just not in a good way.
More than one in three Trump administration staffers have left the White House in its first year, a pace that far eclipses the rate of departures in the previous five White Houses, according to a study done by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institute.
The pace of resignations, firings and other assorted departures from the Trump White House is twice what it was in George W. Bush’s first year as president and triple that of Barack Obama’s first year in office.
And, it’s not just any sorts of departures; a large number of Trump’s senior-most staff have left in the first year alone. Writes Dunn Tenpas:
“Six of the 12 Tier One positions saw turnover (Reince Priebus, chief of staff; Katie Walsh, deputy chief of staff; Sean Spicer, press secretary; George Sifakis, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison; Michael Flynn, national security adviser, and KT McFarland, deputy national security adviser). By comparison, Obama lost one adviser from Tier One (Greg Craig, White House counsel), and George W. Bush did not see any turnover in these high-level positions.”
And her paper came out in mid-January – meaning that Dunn Tenpas missed a number of more recent departures, including former staff secretary Rob Porter; Rachel Brand, the third-ranking official in the Justice Department; and speechwriter David Sorensen, all of whom left in the last week.
Look at this picture. It includes some people, like former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who were never at the White House, but who unceremoniously left Trump’s orbit. Others didn’t work directly at the White House, but have featured prominently in the Trump administration. And Manafort, by the way, has been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with money laundering and filing false foreign lobbying reports. See if you can name all of the people – each one of whom has left the White House or Trump’s orbit – in it. (Confession: I couldn’t):
Here’s the animated version if you prefer moving pictures:
You get the idea. Lots and lots – and lots – of people have left this White House at very senior levels in a very short period of time.
Why? Here’s Dunn Tenpas’ theory:
“Since the President relied on many of his connections in the private sector and was reluctant to hire those who opposed him during the campaign, the absence of prior White House experience among the ranks of the senior staff was glaring. In addition, the insurgent-like features of the Trump campaign and the relatively small campaign staff limited the pool of experienced applicants. While it created new opportunities for many individuals who had not previously worked in the White House, such inexperience may have led to poor performance and a slew of first-year departures.”
I think that’s largely right. Despite Trump’s assurances that he would hire only the “best people” for his administration, the campaign he ran made lots and lots of longtime Washington-dwellers nervous. Trump relished that freaking-out-the-squares image and promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington lifers.
The problem with doing that, of course, is that if you aren’t willing to use serious political and policy thinkers in senior roles (and they are uninterested in being involved anyway), you run the risk of installing people with little to no experience in government in jobs for which they are only loosely qualified for and from which they wash out quickly.
Then there is Trump himself – a man who resists being managed at all costs and who, when something goes wrong, immediately looks for a scapegoat on which to blame things. That’s not exactly an ideal work environment.
Even for staffers he has not fired or forced to resign, Trump’s public bullying seems over the line. How does calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “beleaguered” help Sessions work harder or better? How does undercutting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts at diplomacy in North Korea make the country’s senior diplomat a more effective spokesman to the world?
The chaos of Trump’s first year in office is reflected and refracted in all sorts of different ways. One is his historically low poll numbers. Another is his White House’s struggles to stay on message. (Happy Infrastructure Week, by the way!) Yet another is in massive amount of turnover in his staff.
There’s very little continuity or comity in the Trump White House. The staff turmoil and turnover shows no signs of slowing or stopping. Chief of staff John Kelly remains under fire for his handling of the Porter situation. Communications director Hope Hicks, who had been romantically linked to Porter, has come in for further scrutiny and criticism too of late. And it’s only Tuesday.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly describe the composite picture.