By Campaign Agent Marykate Monaghan
President Trump’s unexpected dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson completes a set of traumatic weeks for the infamous inner circle working within the White House. Similarly, the other developments within the West Wing of Hope Hick’s resignation from her position as Communications Director and the downgrading of Jared Kushner’s security clearance suggest the President’s trusted circle of advisors may be near to collapse. This article will explore the recent developments within the West Wing in more detail to evaluate the ever-shrinking inner circle of President Donald Trump.
Why was Rex Tillerson Dismissed?
US diplomacy was left in turmoil last Tuesday after President Trump’s dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The decision comes after a series of clashes between the pair on delicate foreign policy issues, such as the US’ approach to Russia. This aggravated Trump’s concerns on Tillerson’s role in the White House, as he believed he could not count on the Secretary of State to give his full backing when formulating or implementing the President’s foreign policy.
This tension grew as a result of Tillerson’s emerging resentment towards the President’s close aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as the Secretary felt his position was being undermined by their actions within the diplomatic sphere. For instance, Kushner’s focus on handling many issues within the Middle East and Ivanka’s delegation of a Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India last November left Tillerson feeling undercut and undervalued, consolidating the mistrust felt towards the President.
This lack of support is reaffirmed by the President’s pick to replace the out-going Tillerson, Mike Pompeo. Former Director of the CIA, Pompeo and Trump are known to share a stronger relationship than the President did with Tillerson, with Trump describing how the two are “on the same wavelength.” This shows the President’s lack of trust in Tillerson, and to an extent lack of love, as acting as the key determiner in his decision to fire the Secretary of State, and reinforces the importance of loyalty and trust if figures within Trump’s inner circle want to secure their position. This will certainly be Mike Pompeo's mind as he moves over from his position as Head of the CIA to replace Tillerson.
Who else has disappeared from President Trump’s inner, political circle?
No member of Trump's inner circle has been more influential than Steve Bannon during the President's first year in office. Rarely was a major decision made within the West Wing without Bannon's involvement. His appointment as one of President Trump's top advisors ensured his participation in most high-level decision-making. For example, he had considerable influence in shaping the US' actions towards pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and freezing the US' established refugee program. Yet, his decision to contradict the President on a number of issues in August last year left Trump furious, and lead ultimately to his dismissal. Bannon's departure from the White House took away a key pillar of Trump's inner political circle, and reflected the ability for more major players to be dismissed in a similar fashion if their loyalty to the President sways. In light of recent events, Bannon’s departure now appears almost as a prophecy for former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.
Possibly, the biggest loss so far for President Trump has been Hope Hicks. The White House's Communications Director was a key figure within Trump's inner circle in the West Wing after developing a strong and trusting relationship with the President during her time at Trump’s Organisation. This lead to Hicks becoming one of Trump's longest serving political aides, showing her importance to the President. However, Hicks resigned on the 1st March, a day after testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee as a part of their investigation into Russian interference within the Presidential Election in 2016. This will be a devastating blow to not only President Trump, but his inner circle as a whole, as Hicks’ presence was consolidated through her closeness and time spent with the team. Hicks' departure has heavily weakened Trump's inner circle and brings more instability to an already chaos-ridden West Wing.
Who is still standing?
Trump’s former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway has become an almost immovable figure within the President’s inner circle. Her survival comes down to the unflinching loyalty she holds towards the President, defending almost his every action. This was highlighted throughout his presidential campaign, as Conway’s support persisted even throughout the “Access Hollywood” Tape reveal, and even more so during his first year in the Oval Office.
Yet, Conway’s time in the West Wing has not been without controversy. Infamous incidents have littered her time as the President’s senior advisor, including the infamous defence of “Alternative Facts” when reporting on the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration and misstatement on the “Bowling Green Massacre”, which was not a real event. However, her iron-willed support of the President may have saved her skin during these incidents, reaffirmed as both Tillerson and Bannon’s departures have resulted from contradicting the President on a number of issues; Russia’s involvement in the Salisbury Nerve Agent Incident and stating that Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with the Russians was “treasonous” respectfully.
Thus, Conway’s continued stay at the White House reaffirms that loyalty is one of the most valued features for the President, and the key to staying in the inner circle for the full four-year term.
It’s safe to say that President Trump’s daughter has emerged as the most influential member of his political, inner circle. Her role as a senior aide to the President has expanded in the last few months to include the vital role of representing the US in significant diplomatic events. For instance, her ambassador-like appearances at the Winter Olympics and last year’s G20 underline her influence within the White House and reflect her growing presence in the wider international scene. This is expected to continue following Tillerson’s dismissal, as Ivanka is expected to meet South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kyung-Wha in preparation for the highly anticipated meeting between Kim-Jong-Un and President Trump. The significance of this role in the run-up to the most momentous meeting of Trump’s presidency consolidates Ivanka’s position of power in not only the inner circle, but also US politics as a whole.
Who may be in Trouble?
The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has seen his position in Trump's inner circle drastically change over the last few weeks. The senior advisor to the President has been trusted with high-level tasks since joining the White House staff in 2017, including work on resolving the tension within the Middle East and developing mechanisms to reform the criminal justice system. Yet, in late February, Kushner's Security Clearance Level was heavily downgraded from his previously “Top Secret” status. This will prevent Kushner from accessing the Presidential Daily Briefings and many collections of top-secret material, slashing his ability to influence policy decision-making in the West Wing. Likewise, his role in Trump's inner circle will be largely diminished, as his lack of high-level clearance prevents him from attending top-level meetings between the President and his fellow advisors, such as Conway and Ivanka Trump. Thus, his lack of access to ‘Top-Secret’ meetings and materials may suggest that the writing is on the wall for the President's son-in-law…
Sources and Further Reading:
- 'Trump: Mike Pompeo and I 'are on the same wavelength'', NBC News (13 March 2018)
- Nicole Gaouette, Kaitlan Collins and Dan Merica, 'Trump fires Tillerson, taps Pompeo as next secretary of state', CNN (13 March 2018)
- 'Cartoons: Trump’s inner circle in flux', The Washington Post (3 March 2018)
- Clack Mindock, 'Steve Bannon out: Trump 'decides to fire chief strategist'', The Independent (18 August 2017)
- David J Lynch, Courtney Weaver and Shawn Donnan, 'Steve Bannon pledges to turn fire on Donald Trump’s White House', The FT (19 August 2017)
- Sabrina Siddiqui, 'Hope Hicks resigns as Trump's White House communications director', The Guardian (1 March 2018)
- 'Hope Hicks' departure further shrinks Trump inner circle', The Week (1 March 2018)
- Sarah Gray, 'Steve Bannon Calls Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower Meeting 'Treasonous'', Fortune (3 January 2018)
- Martin Pengelly, 'Kellyanne Conway: 'alternative facts' was my Oscars La La Land blunder', The Guardian (4 March 2017)
- David A. Farenthold, 'Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005', The Washington Post (8 October 2016)
- Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, 'Defying the Odds, Kellyanne Conway Steps Back and Hangs On', The NY Times (4 March 2018)
- Caroline Halleman, 'Ivanka Trump's Evolving Role in Her Father's White House', Town&Country (30 August 2017)
- 'Ivanka Trump’s Brand Building at the White House', The NY Times (1 March 2018)
- Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Pamela Brown, 'Kushner security clearance is downgraded', CNN (28 February 2018)
Image: angla.n @Flickr