President Donald Trump once presided over a reality show in which a key cast member exited each week. The same thing seems to be happening in his White House.
Trump's West Wing has descended into a period of unparalleled tumult amid a wave of staff departures — and despite the president's insistence that it's a place of "no Chaos, only great Energy!" The latest key figure to announce an exit: Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser, who had clashed with Trump over trade policy.
Cohn's departure has sparked internal fears of an even larger exodus, raising concerns in Washington of a coming "brain drain" around the president that will only make it more difficult to advance his already languishing policy agenda. While Trump has publicly tried to dispel perceptions of disarray, multiple White House officials said the president has been pushing anxious aides to stay on the job to try to staunch the bleeding.
"Everyone wants to work in the White House," Trump insisted during a news conference Tuesday. "They all want a piece of the Oval Office."
The reality is a far different story. Vacancies abound in the West Wing and the broader Trump administration — with some jobs never filled by the president and others subject to repeat openings. The job of White House communications director is soon to be empty again after the departure of its fourth occupant, Hope Hicks.
"They are left with vacancies atop of vacancies," said Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks senior-level staff turnover. Her analysis shows the Trump departure rate has reached 40 percent in just over a year.
"That kind of turnover creates a lot of disruption," she added, noting the loss of institutional knowledge and relationships with agencies and Congress. "You can't really leave those behind to your successor."
One White House official said there is concern about a potential "death spiral" in the West Wing — each departure heightening the sense of frenzy and expediting the next.