Via Jason L. Riley for WSJ’s editorial board
“No WH Chaos!” tweeted President Trump Monday morning, reassuring precisely no one.
Hours later, news broke that the chaos-free White House had decided to replace Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director who had managed to talk himself out of a job he’d held for less than two weeks.
Mr. Scaramucci’s potty mouth has received most of the attention. How you comport yourself in public as a high-ranking government official ought to matter, but the bigger problem was his judgment. The communications director of a Republican White House called an anti-Trump reporter at an anti-Trump magazine to vent his frustration with administration colleagues. What did he think would happen? How could someone so naive about the workings of the media be entrusted with that job?
The president was prepared to stand by Mr. Scaramucci, but the new White House chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, called for his ouster and Mr. Trump assented. The appointment of Mr. Kelly is a positive move, but it won’t save Mr. Trump from himself. Even if the former Marine manages to restore some order in the West Wing—and he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t think he could—there’s only so much anyone other than the president can do about this administration’s growing dysfunction and irrelevance.
Mr. Trump’s core supporters may not mind the bedlam, but it’s starting to alienate Republicans in Congress. A few, like Sens. Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake, have openly criticized Mr. Trump. Others simply are ignoring the president or defying him. Despite White House demands that the lawmakers give ObamaCare repeal another go, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch insist that it’s time to move on. Mr. Trump has responded by calling members of his own party “fools” and “quitters.”
How he plans to advance his agenda without the help of these fools and quitters is anyone’s guess. This president isn’t playing the long game.
Mr. Trump’s spent much of last week publicly demeaning Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “weak” and “beleaguered” in hopes that he would resign. The taunting hasn’t worked yet, and Mr. Sessions has won important backing from his former Senate colleagues. Last week Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa announced that he would not hold hearings on a replacement this year if Mr. Trump fires Mr. Sessions. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN that “this effort to basically marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well.”
And that’s far from the only thing not going over well with legislators. The Senate expressed its bipartisan frustration at how the Trump administration has dealt with Vladimir Putin by voting 98-2 to expand Russia sanctions. The legislation passed the House with only three dissenting votes. Congress understands that Russia should pay a price for trying to meddle in the 2016 election, even if the White House remains somewhat confused on the matter.
Even the military seems to be losing patience with the commander in chief, whose recent tweet announcing a ban on transgender service members blindsided defense officials. A Pentagon spokesman said Monday that tweets are not orders and that no action will be taken until the White House goes though the proper channels. Announcing this major policy change through social media has created all kinds of uncertainty for thousands of honorable people who are putting their lives on the line for this country. They deserved better.
Mr. Trump occupies the most powerful office in the world, yet he’s never looked weaker. And the primary problem wasn’t Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus or Anthony Scaramucci. They haven’t stalled his agenda. Nor has the special counsel hired to probe Mr. Trump. The president finds himself in this situation because of his own reckless behavior.
Many Republicans who reluctantly supported Donald Trump told themselves that he would govern differently from the way he campaigned. That hasn’t happened, and the president’s apparent inability to grow on the job now risks bringing his presidency to a virtual standstill. The new White House chief of staff can improve matters but it’s unlikely to be much of a change. And then there’s the question of how long any improvement will last. We’ve seen brief bouts of normalcy from this president before. Staff changes will only get Mr. Trump so far. The problem with his administration isn’t the administrators.