Cartoon by Mike Peters

'Hollowed out' White House: Trump is on a dangerous path toward no advisers

The Guardian: Like many American presidents before him, Donald Trump held court in the East Room of the White House, surrounded by chandeliers, gold curtains, mirrors and portraits of George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. He had a message for the press: “You know, I read where, ‘Oh, gee, maybe people don’t want to work for Trump.’ Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House … I could take any position in the White House, and I’ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there.”

That was around 3.45pm on Tuesday at a press conference. Less than two hours later, the White House that everyone wants to work for was struggling to explain its latest empty desk. Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, had decided to walk away.

Another one bites the dust. There has never been such a rapid turnover of personnel in a US administration in modern times. If anything, the stampede to the exits appears to be accelerating, raising fears of a “brain drain” that will leave key jobs unfilled and make it ever harder to recruit new talent.

“One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, of doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters. “So the mess-ups we’ve seen this past week, I think we’re going to see over and over and over again.”

Trump, who spent a decade as host of The Apprentice, has enjoyed pulling back the curtain to allow White House meetings to be televised. But he also appears to be copying the reality TV format of eliminating a member of his administration or cabinet on a weekly basis, leaving the audience in suspense: who’s next?

Multiple reports have suggested that it could be HR McMaster, the national security adviser whose style is said to grate with Trump, or Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state who has been repeatedly marginalised.

In addition, John Kelly, the chief of staff once seen as a stabilising force, has been under pressure over his handling of allegations of domestic abuse against his close aide Rob Porter. And Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, looks especially vulnerable after his security clearance was downgraded and the Russian collusion investigation closes in.

This threatens to leave Trump in ever greater isolation, trusting his gut on policy decisions rather than a dwindling band of advisers whom he relishes setting against each other. “I like conflict,” he said at this week’s joint press conference, as the Swedish prime minister, Stefan Lofven, looked on with a poker face.

Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist, said: “In terms of modern presidencies, this is the most untethered we’ve ever seen. We now have a situation where we’re being governed by the president’s impulses. If you disagree with him on anything you’re sent to the outer darkness. You have to find a different form of ‘yes’.”

Despite a presidential tweet insisting “There is no Chaos, only great Energy!” (echoing the famed 1979 British newspaper headline, “Crisis? What crisis?”), Shrum added: “The morale has to be rock bottom. The combination of his capriciousness and Kelly’s straitjacket hasn’t helped; it’s made matters worse.

“Most major Republicans don’t want anything to do with the place. It’s a six-months-to-a-year gig. It’s the first White House where we’ve had nothing but short terms unless you’re in the president’s family. It’s bad for the country and bad for the world.”

Some 43% of top-level White House positions have turned over since Trump was inaugurated, according to figures compiled by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington. Two years into their terms, Barack Obama’s staff turnover rate was just 24%, while former George W Bush’s was 33% >>>