The White House Communications Director seems to be a terrible communicator. Last Sunday, he outed the President as the anonymous source he cited to cast doubt on the Russia investigation, defeating the purpose of an anonymous source. And on Tuesday, he threatened to fire the entire White House communications staff over leaks, filling the news with negative process stories when he should have been selling "American Heroes Week," one in a series of message-themed weeks created by, what else, the White House communications office.
And then last night, Anthony Scaramucci took to Twitter to accuse White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking documents from Scaramucci's financial disclosure form. Scaramucci has threatened to send the FBI and Department of Justice after Priebus, and today he likened his relationship with Priebus to that between the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel. (Spoiler alert: Cain killed Abel.)
More negative process stories abound, taking away coverage from the President's agenda. On paper, this is the exact opposite of what a White House Communications Director is supposed to do. The Trump White House looks as erratic as ever. But this time, I think there's reason to the chaos. Scaramucci knows exactly what he's doing: he is lining himself up to take Reince Priebus's job.
Priebus has always been on shaky ground in the West Wing. A main reason the he has been able to stay employed this long is that nobody really wants his spot, scrambling atop a White House out of his control. So for Scaramucci, becoming King of the Hill is an easy three step process: curry favor with Trump, off Priebus, and fill the void of unwilling candidates to fill the spot.
Like a normal communications director, Scaramucci does a good job of staying on message, just not the President's message. Scaramucci's message is simple: leaks, leaks, leaks. Since the very beginning of his short but public White House career, Scaramucci has made it his mission to denounce leaked information. This is a particularly ferocious hobby horse of Trump's. The President has written dozens of tweets about the issue, and it is a near constant fixture on Fox News, the President's favorite network. By taking on Trump's favorite office issue, Scaramucci is sure to score some points.
And by tying Priebus to the terrible, terrible leaks, Scaramucci is making headway on the second step, getting Priebus fired. The President was about to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the DOJ Russia investigation (and leaks) until Sessions announced a new effort to stop leakers yesterday. The President hates leaks, and he has shown a propensity for firing top officials (Sally Yates, Michael Flynn, James Comey). Will Trump fire Priebus next? Find out next week onWhite House Apprentice.
What remains for Scaramucci after Priebus's departure is to convince Trump that he's the best man for the job. And Scaramucci's going about it the right way. In a White House where the President reportedly barely skims his memos, savvy aides are communicating their message to Trump through the media. (This is one reason for the constant leaks.) And if there's one place where you can always find Scaramucci, it's in media coverage. He's been criticized by the failing press, mocked on late-night TV, and absorbed by Twitter wars. In short, Scaramucci is a man who takes after his boss.
Battling to become Donald Trump's Chief of Staff may be like vying to take over control of the Titanic. But nonetheless, Chiefs of Staff are often referred to as the second most powerful person in Washington, and for good reason. Especially with a president who is known to act based on the most recent advice he's heard, it's good to be the gatekeeper. My prediction is this: Scaramucci wants to be Chief of Staff, and if he can sustain this Priebus-leaks narrative, publicly or internally, he will be successful.
Photo credit J. Darsie, Creative Commons