By Niall Stanage - 07-29-17 06:01 AM EDT
Republicans are in shock this weekend as the chaos around the Trump White House reaches a new intensity.
Recent days have brought a deluge of drama.
Embattled chief of staff Reince Priebus was ousted, in news that broke late Friday afternoon. Priebus said in television interviews that he submitted his resignation the previous day.
Trump tapped Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to take over. One source in Trump's orbit said that the retired general had known Trump wanted him to replace Priebus for "at least a week."
The president's loyalists argue that the ouster of Priebus is overdue and could bring a turning of the page after the administration's tumultuous first six months.
"The president is hitting the reset button here," said Trump friend and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy. "He wants to bring adults into the room."
But skeptical voices across the political spectrum are astonished at the scale and number of crises that have beset the White House.
The shake-up Friday came after new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci attacked Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon in vulgar terms in an interview with The New Yorker published the previous day.
The long and raucous effort to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, collapsed in the early hours of Friday when GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) rebelled to sink a pared-down repeal bill.
Those developments followed the president's unexpected announcement on Twitter of a ban on transgender people serving in the military, and public criticisms by Trump of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Insiders say Trump is trying to drive Sessions out of office without directly firing him.
Mac Stipanovich, a veteran GOP operative in Florida who is close to the Bush family, recalled Jeb Bush's comment during last year's Republican presidential primary that Trump would be "the chaos president" if elected.
"I think that is absolutely the case. It's not even a matter of interpretation," Stipanovich said. "We don't have any effective government, we don't have any effective leadership and the White House is a snake-pit."
"How many glasses of wine did The Mooch have at dinner?" one GOP strategist close to the White House asked via text message, in the hours after Scaramucci's profane interview with The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza became public. "This does not come across as rational thinking."
In the interview, Scaramucci called Priebus "a f---ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoic."
He also compared himself favorably to Trump's chief strategist, saying, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c---. I'm not trying to build my own brand off the f---ing strength of the president."
The interview sent tremors across Washington.
"How this level of dysfunction helps the White House move its agenda, I have no idea," said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. "This is a circus right now."
Rumors that Bannon's position could be endangered flared in the week of the Scaramucci interview - and even more so after Priebus departed. However, Bannon has survived several previous periods when his demise was predicted.
One White House official noted to The Hill that Bannon's relationship with Kelly goes back a decade and that the chief strategist was instrumental in bringing the general into the administration in the first place.
Bannon is also believed to have been among those recommending Kelly for the chief of staff position.
While the New Yorker interview and its fallout transfixed much of the political world, some people close to Trump were unexpectedly sanguine about the furor.
Some senior people at the White House reacted to the interview with a figurative shrug of the shoulders, while other Trump allies saw the lack of a reprimand for Scaramucci as a sign of Priebus's rapidly eroding standing.
In the immediate wake of the chief of staff's departure, a Republican source with ties to the White House described Priebus as "a good man" but added that he "did not have the mandate or authority to be effective in that position."
One former aide to Trump's 2016 campaign had predicted on Thursday evening that Priebus's tenure as chief of staff was coming to a close.
"I think Reince has probably figured it out by now," this source said with a laugh. "The music is about to stop and there is going to be one less chair."
The same source also argued that the indignation about Scaramucci's interview - and more generally about his brash style of communication - was overdone, and underestimated his effectiveness in dealing with the president.
"Every new generation of Trump's team think they are going to change him," the source said, arguing this had been true of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and "to an extent" counselor Kellyanne Conway.
"What they need to do is gently steer him. I think Scaramucci can steer him."
Ruddy, meanwhile, implicitly blamed some of Trump's troubles on Priebus and his most powerful ally, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"The president is all about performance," Ruddy said, adding that in Trump's six months in the Oval Office, "he's accomplished so many things that he's not gotten credit for. Yet some big things like health care that Paul Ryan and Reince said was a done deal, turned out to be a disappointment."
The failure of the Republican healthcare effort in the Senate was a huge blow.
In the early hours of Friday, McCain cast a decisive vote against a slimmed-down effort that aimed to gut important parts of the ACA.
His opposition came despite last-minute efforts by Vice President Pence to win him over on the Senate floor. His vote, combined with a united Democratic front and expected no votes from Collins and Murkowski, doomed the bill.
The White House has no big legislative wins in its first six months. Trump now faces challenges in passing legislation on tax reform and infrastructure spending, even as his political capital has been much diminished.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday, GOP strategist Rick Tyler declared Trump's presidency "effectively over."
Tyler, who previously served as communications director on Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign, later told The Hill that Trump's skill sets don't match his current office.
"The president campaigned in part on the idea that he was a business guy who knew how to make deals. It turns out his skill sets are completely inappropriate for the presidency. Trump is enormously talented - but his talents have no applicability to governing," he said.
Trump loyalists vigorously dispute that assessment. Their spirits have always been buoyed, even in the administration's darkest days, by the knowledge that Trump defied all predictions to become president in the first place.
The most optimistic among them believe that Trump loyalists have belatedly seized full control of the White House and that the changes could ultimately lead to less drama, not more.
Even Priebus himself gamely insisted in an interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity on Friday evening that "I think actually going a different direction, hitting a reset button, is actually a good thing and the president did that."
But others assert that Trump is in uncharted territory once again.
"If he's had a worse week, I can't think of it," said Stipanovich.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.