White House ‘rebranding’ effort flops with staffers: ‘Made me feel like I was back in 5th grade’
The Trump administration is anxiously eyeing the April 29 deadline for the president’s first 100 days in office, as the communications team attempts a “rebranding” and top aides jockey for position.
White House news has been dominated in the past week by the power struggle between chief strategist Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, a senior aide and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law — which has paralyzed the administration, reported Politico.
Trump ordered the pair to settle their differences over the weekend at Mar-A-Lago, the president’s private club in Florida, after using media surrogates to take shots at one another in recent days.
One White House official questioned the wisdom of Bannon, who joined Trump’s campaign team in August at the urging of top campaign donor Rebekah Mercer, picking a fight with the president’s son-in-law.
“For a Svengali that doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do,” the official told Politico. “I don’t think that ends well for him.”
One White House ally told the website that Bannon had maintained oversight of crucial policies, including immigration and trade, despite his feud with Kushner.
“Anyone who thinks that Steve has lost his influence, they don’t know what the f*ck they’re talking about,” that source said.
Some of Bannon’s failures — chiefly, health care reform and the travel ban — have left the White House communications team scrambling to find positive accomplishments to promote over the next two weeks, as the symbolically important 100-day mark approaches.
Communications director Mike Dubke and his deputy, Jessica Ditto, brought about 30 staffers into a meeting last week to brainstorm ideas for “rebranding” the Trump administration.
“I think the president’s head would explode if he heard that,” one White House official told Politico.
Dubke told the website the meeting had been misunderstood.
“There is not a need for a rebranding but there is a need to brand the first 100 days,” Dubke said. “Because if we don’t do it the media is going to do it. That’s what our job is.”
Kellyanne Conway and other staffers were broken into three groups to think up lists of Trump successes, using white boards, markers and rolls of butcher-block paper.
“It made me feel like I was back in 5th grade,” one aide complained to the website. “That’s the best way I could describe it.”
Staffers were stunned when Dubke steered them away from international affairs, three days before ordering an airstrike in Syria, because the president lacked a coherent foreign policy.
“There is no Trump doctrine,” Dubke said.
Staffers, like many of the president’s supporters, thought Trump had been abundantly clear about his foreign policy goals during the campaign.
“It rubbed people the wrong way because on the campaign we were pretty clear about what he wanted to do,” one official told Politico. “He was elected on a vision of ‘America First.’ ‘America First’ is the Trump doctrine.”
Another official ripped Dubke’s understanding of the president’s policies.
“We’ve got a comms team supposedly articulating the president’s message [that] does not appear to understand the president’s message,” the officials said.
For his part, Dubke expressed frustration that White House staffers complained to the media instead of bringing their concerns directly to him.
“It was a brainstorming session and I really wish they had spoken up in the room so that we could have had an open and honest conversation,” he said. “It is unproductive adjudicating internal discussions through the media.”