Trump is 'terrified' his spurned and ousted aides could stab him in the back: report
An unprecedented rate of staff turnover has plagued President Donald Trump's administration since early on, creating inefficiencies and instability in the top tiers of the federal government with potentially far-reaching consequences. But for the president personally, his uniquely fractious leadership style and tendency to burn bridges with former aides leaves him vulnerable to backstabbing by one-time allies.
And according to a new report from the Daily Beast, the president and his team are worried as the number of spurned and fired staffers and Cabinet officials mount.
[P]rivately there is a healthy degree of consternation within the ranks. A source close to Trump says that he becomes noticeably “terrified” and irate whenever he hears of a negative book on him about to drop, whether authored by a former associate or an established journalist. The president often obsesses over the media coverage of these published works, and directs his lieutenants to wage war on the writers and the credibility of the work itself.
One such book, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by former aide Cliff Sims, is due out at the end of January.
"Though the book isn’t due out until January—and though Politico reported that it was not a Trump “takedown”—the president began asking associates in November if 'we lost Cliff?' according to two sources with knowledge of the conversations. Sims declined to comment on this story," the Daily Beast reported.
Later, the report noted that those around Trump believe he has no one to blame for this situation but himself:
Those who have worked with Trump say he understands the dangers of having so many disgruntled ex-employees—including former corporate titans and revered military figures—speaking out during the re-election. And yet, they also recognize that the president is largely unwilling, or incapable, of doing the main thing to prevent such a situation from happening: not humiliate members of his team before (or in some cases after) their banishment.
Stuart Stevens, a former top strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, told the Beast that such accounts are unlikely to do much damage to Trump's 2020 prospects unless the ousted aides rally around the Democratic candidate. But this, he argued, is unlikely.
Trump shouldn't be so confident, though. While many of his former officials like Sean Spicer have been given cushy landings with Trump-aligned PACs or on the his re-election campaign, there are others who seem well-positioned to take a real stand against him when the time comes.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly, and ex-Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, among others, left the administration on not-so-friendly terms. Unlike Jeff Sessions, for instance, they aren't necessarily devoutly committed to Trump's broader agenda (though perhaps Kelly is.) And unlike James Comey or Sally Yates, who have both roundly criticized the president, they can't be smeared as vindictive Obama holdovers.
It's conceivable some of this group — most likely Mattis, Tillerson, Cohn or McMaster — could endorse a strong Democratic challenger in 2020, should they feel it is important enough to do so. And if Trump is already in a weak enough state, it may make a real difference.
Of course, perhaps the most dangerous pool of ex-Trump aides is those, including Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Hope Hicks, Kelly, and Don McGahn, who are known to have spoken with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.