Even before he decided to launch a trade war and roll the nuclear dice by agreeing in the course of a West Wing afternoon to a risky sit-down with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was telling friends he was tired of being reined in. “I’m doing great, but I’m getting all these bad headlines,” Trump told a friend recently. A #Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me Trump is “frustrated by all these people telling him what to do.”
With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said. Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.”
According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said.
Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser #H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months. On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago next weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said. Cohn had been lobbying to replace Kelly as chief, two sources said, and quit when he didn’t get the job. “Trump laughed at Gary when he brought it up,” one outside adviser to the White House said. (The White House declined to comment.)
Next on the departure list are #Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump remains fiercely loyal to his family, but various distractions have eroded their efficacy within the administration. Both have been sidelined without top-secret security clearances by Kelly, and sources expect them to be leaving at some point in the near future. One scenario being discussed is that Kushner would return to New York to oversee Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign with his ally Brad Parscale, who was hand-selected by the Trump family. One Trump friend referred to it as a “soft landing.” Ivanka will likely stay on longer, perhaps through the summer, before decamping home to New York to enroll the children in a Manhattan private school. Both are presumed to remain in close contact with Trump, who often places significant value on the opinions expressed outside his administration, anyway.
Sources cautioned that the couple plans to hang on as long as possible, so as not to make it appear that Kelly railroaded them out of the West Wing. They continue to be furious at the chief. “Why do you have to embarrass Jared like that?” Ivanka complained to a friend recently. Kushner is doing everything he can to appear engaged despite his lack of a security clearance. “He is looking at everything he can do that doesn’t require a clearance,” a former White House official said. Another source added, “The White House is trying to fluff him up again.”
People who have spoken with Trump said his reset is being driven in part by the looming midterms, and he’s been fielding advice from Corey Lewandowski and Dave Bossie. They’ve counseled him to return to his 2016 campaign message. Another source said Trump has felt newfound validation after a CPAC straw poll last month showed him with a 93 percent approval rating. “He felt the crowd desiring more,” a Republican close to the White House said. “He knows there’s going to be a battle ahead.”