(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump has often boasted that he not only tolerates controversy, he thrives on it.
“I think controversy is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said this week, after facing blowback for circulating a tweet that had the provocative hastag, #firefauci. “I want it to be honest.”
But the ever-present turmoil inside the Trump White House appears to be taking an early toll on the president’s new chief of staff, former congressman Mark Meadows.
Within days of arriving, Meadows has displayed a wide range of intense emotions, multiple administration sources said, raising questions about his management style and his handling of the unique challenges of the being a gatekeeper for a uniquely unpredictable president.
At times Meadows, who is known among colleagues to frequently show emotion, has gone from yelling to crying in front of staffers including the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, according to sources. The sources told ABC News in most cases these interactions involved staffing matters. A source close to Kushner denied an interaction like that ever took place.
“He’s a strong willed individual who is known to get prickly when his viewpoint doesn’t prevail,” a person who has worked closely with Meadows told ABC News.
Meadows was a powerful four-term Republican congressman from North Carolina, senior in his party’s leadership before accepting the crucial White House position. Now, just days into the job, aspects of his management style are raising eyebrows and spawning whispers.
A source close to the president predicted that Meadows, as the fourth chief of staff of Trump’s presidency, may be headed for one of the briefest tenures in a revolving-door West Wing known for quick exits. “Act four could be the shortest one yet,” said the source, who is a friend to Meadows.
Meadows was not made available for comment for this report. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said, “The White House is fully focused on supporting the president’s mission of defeating the coronavirus, saving American lives, and getting the country back to work — and Mark Meadows has already proven to be a tremendous asset in that effort. Finding comfort in the Trump White House is no easy task. The president’s own management style can be described as chaotic.
For years, from the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the longtime New York businessman has appeared to prefer environments filled with fierce competition and at times chaos. That culture followed Trump to Washington, and as the administration faces its most challenging obstacle yet – an unprecedented public health crisis that has left the economy in tatters – the drama inside the West Wing has only escalated.
Of all the jobs in the administration, chief of staff is easily among the most demanding. In most administrations, the person in that post controls access to the Oval Office and often has to serve as a buffer between the president and staff. At times, sources have described the chief of staff position under Trump as powerless because the president does not like to be controlled.
The challenge of the job is only compounded by chains of command that at times cross and conflict, in part because the president’s daughter and son-in-law roam largely unchecked across wide swaths of responsibility.
It’s a pattern that has most recently played out in the administration’s efforts to take on a global pandemic. On Feb. 26, the president announced Vice President Pence and members of his staff would take charge, forming a coronavirus task force. Dr. Deborah Birx was named the response coordinator of the group. But at the same time Kushner quietly assembled his own operation to tackle the response.
It was an abrupt change of course internally by Trump that landed Meadows in the job in the first place. Trump dismissed his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney late on a Friday night in early March. The president told friends he needed a chief of staff he could trust — someone with leadership capabilities, sources said at the time.
Mulvaney had not only fallen out of favor with the president, but wasn’t taken seriously among the staff he was supposed to manage, sources close to the president said.
In stepped Meadows, a longtime loyalist and fierce Trump defender. Meadows officially assumed the role on March 30, when he formally resigned from Congress.
Meadows had long been rumored to be in line for the role, and during his days in Congress would often speak to the president multiple times a day. Many senior advisers inside the White House at the time celebrated the move. The president’s close allies described Meadows as “an adult” who could help restore decorum in the West Wing.
Whether Meadows will suffer the same fate as his three predecessors is unclear.
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