He pines for old campaign hands Jason Miller, Corey Lewandowski, and David Bossie—but will Ivanka have the final say?
After the much-hyped Nunes memo failed to deliver the narrative reset that the White House hoped for, Donald Trump is discussing a shake-up to his West Wing, three sources familiar with the president’s thinking told me. These people say the president is increasingly frustrated that members of his administration aren’t going to war for him, and he’s being encouraged by his daughter Ivanka to bring in new blood. “The president’s view is that allies on the outside are doing a better job defending him than his political shop,” one Republican close to the White House told me. Another outside adviser who regularly speaks with Trump said that the president is regretting some of his Cabinet choices. “He’s saying he should have put Rudy [Giuliani] at State and Chris Christie at Justice.”
Trump has recently told advisers he wants a “killer” to steer the White House’s response to Robert Mueller’s investigation and craft a midterm election message for him to stump on this fall. For Trump, there’s a growing urgency to fill the role. His efforts to stymie Mueller’s probe have so far failed, and the specter of impeachment looms if Democrats win back the House in November. Ivanka, who’s been frustrated with Chief of Staff John Kelly, has told her father that he needs people around him that will put his interests above their own. “She wants to clean house,” a Trump friend told me. “Her view is J.F.K. had Bobby there to have his back.”
The president’s top choice for the strategist position is Jason Miller, who served as communications director for Trump’s presidential campaign. “He wants a killer, and Jason is a killer,” an outside adviser to the White House told me. Trump had wanted Miller to join the administration during the transition, but Miller withdrew after it was revealed he had an extramarital affair during the campaign with former Trump aide A.J. Delgado.
In Miller, Trump sees an aggressive operator who could potentially fill a vacuum created last August by the departure of former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Trump hasn’t forged a close relationship with Bill Stepien, the current White House political director. “Stepien is more of an introvert, he’s a tactical guy,” one outside Trump adviser said. Current White House Communications Director Hope Hicksprimarily functions as Trump’s gatekeeper (and is now deeply embroiled in the Russia probe). In recent weeks, Trump has publicly clashed with Chief of Staff John Kelly after Kelly took a more active role in White House policymaking and messaging. One Republican close to the White House described Trump’s frustration with Kelly, who came to the office with zero political experience, this way: “It’s like Kelly views Trump as a mushroom. He wants to keep him in the dark and feed him a bunch of shit.”
Without a close confidant on the inside with whom he can plot strategy, Trump has turned to outside advisers for counsel. According to sources, Trump speaks regularly by phone with a braintrust that includes Sean Hannity, Jason Miller, Corey Lewandowski, Reince Priebus, and R.N.C. Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. According to sources, Miller has advised Trump to push for an immigration deal that shows real progress towards building the Wall, the theory being that getting a win on immigration will mobilize the base in November. Instead, they want him to sign an extension for DACA so that immigration is a midterm election issue (the theory being that putting immigration on the ballot will mobilize the base). Miller also has told Trump that he performs best when he can draw a stark contrast with his opponent. Miller wants Trump to make the midterms a choice between the Trump agenda and Nancy Pelosi, a race that mirrors the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Trump hasn’t offered Miller a job, sources said. But allies of the president have been feeling Miller out. Miller has so far been reluctant to take a White House job because he’s told people he needs to earn a private-sector income to make child support payments to Delgado, who gave birth to Miller’s son last July. (Miller, who remains married to his wife, declined to comment. A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.)
If Miller doesn’t go to the White House, another scenario being discussed is that Trump could fill the strategist role with Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie. Both have the aggressive personality Trump favors. But neither one has anything resembling West Wing experience, and both face stiff opposition from Ivanka and Jared Kushner. “They have blocked Corey at every turn. They kept him from going into [the] family box at the inaugural,” one former campaign staffer told me. “If Corey gets back in, they’re not long for the place.”