October 31, 2019

Chris Whipple, the author of "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," joined Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss the absence of a real chief of staff in Trump's White House and how it has led to some horrible decisions.

"Only Donald Trump defines his presidency," Whipple told O'Donnell. "In the process what we've seen over the last week is he's defined the chief of staff out of existence. Mick Mulvaney was -- had no authority to begin with, never tried to assert the authority that he should have. But now he's the invisible man."

"[Mulvaney] was in South Carolina during one of the critical national security operations of the presidency. So we truly have a situation where there are no guardrails, no grown-ups, and the inmate is running the asylum," Whipple said.

This then led Lawrence O'Donnell to observe that the lack of guardrails led Trump to listen to a Devin Nunes tinfoil hat toady instead of Lt. Col. Vindman, the real Ukraine expert. It's quite a story.

Whipple was incredulous.

That's an incredible story. The Politico story today. So here it's classic Trump. He's essentially got a choice. He can be briefed by the guy with the chest full of medals, Harvard educated, fluent in Russian and Ukrainian, the expert on Ukraine. Or he can be briefed by this guy from Nunes's office wearing a tinfoil hat who pursues these ridiculous ridiculous conspiracy theories. Guess who he chooses. Naturally he goes with the tinfoil hat guy.

And this speaks to this astonishing obsession of Trump with the 2016 election. And I think, look, we've had delusional presidents before. Richard Nixon was convinced there was something in a safe in the Brookings Institution and told Haldeman to go blow the safe. It was a figment of his imagination. But it's nothing compared to this fixation of Donald Trump's.

As an aside, Haldeman opted not to break into Brookings, choosing instead to break into the Watergate.

"But it pales in comparison to this obsession that Trump has with 2016," Whipple marveled. "I agree with Tom Bossert, his erstwhile ally, maybe still ally, who said this is Trump's white whale, this could be the thing that really brings him down. And if it does, no chief of staff will be around to talk him out of it."

Which is just the way he wants it. Trump is an authoritarian with an inflated sense of himself and his capabilities. If he believes "only he can fix it," he really doesn't care about advisors or a chief of staff, or much else.

Whipple ended with this indictment: "Clearly, this is just the most dysfunctional White House we've ever seen, more dysfunctional by the day, and it's unclear who's in charge of what. Is Jared Kushner the White House chief of staff? Is Ivanka? Is anybody really performing that function? I don't think so."

It's always good to remind ourselves that Trump has the nuclear codes, is impulsive, and authoritarian. He is his own chief of everything.

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