The Trump administration holds a new record: as of this week, it’s the longest an administration has ever gone between supposed “daily” press briefings since the events began to be televised. The last press briefing was before Christmas. Though we’ve been mired in a government shutdown ever since the White House has seen no further need for briefings since then. The Trump administration also beat its own previous record from last fall for not holding briefings, and will likely break this record two press briefings from now, presuming the White House press staff musters up the courage to hold two more press briefings at any point before Trump leaves office. That’s an open question.
A new CNN story pins the blame for declining press briefings on a White House “power struggle,” which is an odd way to spell raging incompetence.
No one has emerged as the clear leader among Sanders, Bill Shine, Kellyanne Conway or Mercedes Schlapp, leading to deep divisions among one of the administration’s most fractious departments and causing a void for a coverage-obsessed president.
So since none of these people know what their actual job is or who’s in charge of what, Team Trump can’t hold press briefings at all because nobody wants to trust the others with saying words out loud? Or is it because nobody wants to be the front person who Trump screams at in front of the others when the latest Trump-ordered spin gets debunked?
If the standing White House policy has been that the White House will give daily press briefings, then it’s an act of incompetence if the press secretary is somehow feeling blocked from doing so. And if there’s a new White House policy abandoning the premise, then it’s act of incompetence for nobody in the building to be able to come out and own that change.
The notion that Sanders isn’t giving briefings because there’s a “power struggle” preventing the White House from being able to express the most rudimentary (lying) opinions on things is a bit much. CNN also cites a person “close to the matter” suggesting that “diminished staffing” on the communications team is thwarting White House messaging efforts. Sure, it might. And a White House communications team able to fight their way out of a paper bag might find that a rather urgent matter, and do something about it. CNN cites sources suggesting ex-Fox News executive Bill Shine is phoning the job in and a disappointment even to Trump himself. That’s hardly a “power struggle,” although badmouthing him to a CNN reporter certainly might be.
To be honest, if this is a “power struggle,” it’s a power struggle only in the sense that everybody involved seems to have abandoned any hope of doing their day jobs and is hunkering down behind their desks, throwing wads of paper at anyone else who comes by.
No, this feels like a White House communications team that can no longer muster the will to go out and defend Trump—not with the certain knowledge that every last stitch of what they say will be debunked the next day, and is fighting with itself over who is going to destroy their future careers, and by how much, to prop up a man known to be a serial liar and who is still, apparently, being investigated as a possible agent of a foreign power.
You can see how that would be depressing, and why even the White House communications team would want to dodge it if they can. But it doesn’t count as a “power struggle” if everyone involved is desperately trying to have less public power than everyone else.