Team of Vipers
Cliff Sims
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 9

Sims begins this chapter by quoting a Trump salvo thrown at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ fame. Trump had tweeted that “I heard poorly rated @MorningJoe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” While it is not uncommon for government leaders to find themselves under the media microscope especially with regards to their character and performance, it is notable that Trump did not accept the criticism. Again, the tweet caught many senior White House officials by surprise, as it is unprecedented for a sitting president to engineer a direct attack on the media in such a manner. It appeared as an affront to the freedom of the press. The tweet backfired badly, and where he faced criticism even from his closest allies.

Sims also describes moments when there was so much tension inside the White House that other people thought they were in the wrong place. Individuals were always looking for ways to upstage each other, which make them all look bad: “Priebus, on the other hand, almost certainly viewed Bannon as someone better suited for a psych ward than the West Wing (although you could argue it was sometimes hard to tell the difference). In the moments when chaos reigned supreme, Priebus was visibly uncomfortable, probably longing for what a more peaceful existence might have been like inside Jeb Bush’s White House. In those same moments Bannon seemed like a hog who had unexpectedly found himself a mud puddle to wallow in on a hot day—he lived for it.” In these times, when those in the White House were engaged in personality and ego wars, nothing much was going on in terms of policy development and other responsibilities. There was obvious lack of leadership and the staff members appeared to be losing their morale. That is how bad it was to work for the President during this period. The matter was made worse when it emerged that a fierce war was brewing between his two leading aides, Bannon and Priebus: “Priebus was fighting enough battles and simply preferred for Bannon to not be one of them. Bannon viewed Priebus as the weakest Chief of Staff imaginable, which he was, allowing Bannon relatively free reign.” When these two leading staffers clashed, factions were created and had made the working environment incredibly toxic.

There was also a time, which Sims explains, when there was a push to discredit and undermine the White House Chief of Staff. While there were numerous people who were never interested in being part of the rivalry, a significant number of the White House employees had been “poisoned”, and their actions and attitudes indicated that they had taken sides: “I guess it should have concerned me more than it did that I was now involved in a plot to undermine the White House Chief of Staff. But it didn’t even cross my mind. This was the Trump White House and this sort of thing happened every day.” This individual plays an important role in the management of daily operations within the White House. When it emerged that some people had planned to discredit him and make him look weak, it is an indication that the rivalry was deeply rooted.


Trump’s attack on the two morning show hosts demonstrated a lack of control and an affront to the freedom of the press. The President of the United States is supposed to obey the Constitution and demonstrate the highest standards of ethical conduct. But one of the clearest lessons from this chapter is the failed leadership in the White House.

It is evident from this chapter that the White House is on fire. Senior aides of President Trump, Bannon, and Priebus are engaged in a battle of supremacy that has trickled down to the lower-level staffers. Sims has made it clear that, to a large extent, the issues at the White House impacted negatively on the President’s ability to accomplish his goals. “Priebus and Spicer were hurting Trump’s ability to accomplish his agenda —the President had lost trust in them—and they either needed to shape up or ship out. I believed Scaramucci’s entrance into the West Wing was likely to ensure one of those two things would happen, and I told Mooch I was going to do whatever I could to help make it happen.” Even when there were times when Trump had good motives, there were people hell-bent on bringing him down. However, Trump is to blame entirely for the greater friction among his team.

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