Lennox: Westerhout Shows That Staff, Not Trump Himself Are the President’s Biggest Liability

Goldman Sachs COO Gary Cohn, right, is escorted by Madeline Westerhout to a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Heading into the Labor Day weekend news emerged that President Donald Trump’s private secretary had been fired for comments made to reporters during and after a purported off-the-record dinner.

This latest incident of a White House staffer getting the heave-ho only confirms what has plagued Trump since the earliest days of his presidency: Staff.

Almost all of Trump’s woes have been self-inflicted by staff that were disloyal, unqualified, or just plain incompetent. In some cases, it was a combination of all the above.

I say this as neither a Never Trumper nor an anti-Trump critic in the media. In fact, I have been a consistent defender of the president. Moreover, I was one of the few voices to correctly predict his 2016 victory based on what I observed on-the-ground in key battleground areas of Michigan.

Yet, it is abundantly clear that staff — while improved since most of the White House palace intrigue ended with the departure of then-chief of staff Reince Priebus — remains a liability to this very day.

Staff that were openly opposed to Trump’s candidacy in 2016 continue to occupy positions both at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and in the broader administration throughout the several departments and agencies. Past presidents have had to deal with appointees who backed opposing candidates in their party’s primaries and caucuses, but Trump is the only president who has consistently faced this level of institutional resistance and opposition in the campaign, transition, and administration. While anti-Trumpism within the Republican Party has simmered, it is still there.

With Republicans like that, who needs Democrats?

I know many good, competent political operatives and policy wonks that publicly endorsed Trump well before he was the GOP nominee but were passed over for administration jobs because Priebus packed the White House with establishment staffers from the Republican National Committee and other party committees.

In the case of Trump’s now-former private secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, she reportedly leaked sensitive details and even trash-talked some members of the First Family to journalists that included Philip Rucker, the White House bureau chief for the Washington Post. It is safe to assume she may have been one of the “unnamed senior administration officials” who regularly spoke to Rucker and other journalists over the past three years. As they say, once a leaker always a leaker.

I don’t know where to start, except it is unfathomable that anyone who works for a president and an administration that endlessly — and rightly so in many cases — labels Rucker’s outlet as fake news would even talk with him, especially considering his own extensive record of anti-Trump reportage and cable TV punditry. Of course, Westerhout is hardly the only one guilty of this.

Trumpists despise CNN and regularly attack it for being an “enemy of the people.” Yet, officials, spokesmen and surrogates for the administration, campaign, and Republican National Committee are still regularly seen on the channel. Why? If CNN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and others are fake news then they should be deemed persona non grata by anyone speaking for the White House, campaign or party.

At the same time, the Detroit News and other newspapers in pivotal 2020 swing states never get an interview with Trump. Again, why speak to the fake news when you could cultivate the news outlets that voters in must-win states actually consume?

I get the prestige of having your name in the New York Times, but it makes zero sense not to talk with the Green Bay Press-Gazette if your loyalty rests with Trump and not the Swamp.

Trump’s re-election campaign committee deserves a lot of praise for professionalizing and staffing up well before the first votes are cast. The Westerhout saga should be seen by the president as an opportunity to finally clean house and ensure that, as with his campaign, the administration is all-in for the final year. 

Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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