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An Oral History of the Trump Administration

As told through anonymous quotes from White House and Republican officials

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker (Getty Images, Library of Congress, and Flickr Creative Commons).

You could say the Trump era began with an anonymous quote. “It will take a miracle for us to win,” an unnamed senior campaign adviser told CNN on election night. Steve Bannon suspected the source was Kellyanne Conway, according to Joshua Green’s book Devil’s Bargain, and the tell was that CNN went out of its way to avoid using gendered pronouns, a giveaway because Conway was the only woman on Trump’s senior staff.

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But since then, the anonymous quotes coming from Trumpland have proliferated so wildly that it would be impossible to track them all down. Over the course of a young presidency composed of nothing but disasters and scandals, a torrent of anonymous backstabbing and grumbling has found its way into the mainstream media. Taken together, these quotes show what it is like to work for a mercurial boss who is horribly unqualified for the office he holds.

While political professionals have long used the anonymous quote to air policy disagreements and leak sensitive information they want in public view, Donald Trump’s Washington also seems to use anonymity as a form of exoneration, a way to telegraph to the world: Yes, we know that our boss is crazy and dangerous.

They are identified here only by the title assigned to them by the reporters who cite them. What emerges from this compilation is an ongoing record of the Republican failure to speak up in public, while the president wreaks havoc both here and abroad. It is a story about a rotting GOP, as told by the greatest cowards of the Trump era.

Reince Priebus Chief of Staff (January 2017 - July 2017)

“For somebody who was rumored to be on his way out week one, if he lasts six or seven months, it is a success.”

Senior​ ​White​ ​House​ ​official

On his habit of sprinting into meetings—“He literally runs.”

Senior​ ​administration​ ​official

​ “Nobody wants Reince’s job here. I can tell you that with certainty.”

Senior​ ​official

“A little bit of under-competence and a slight amount of insecurity can breed some paranoia and backstabbing. We have to get Reince to relax into the job and become more competent, because he’s seeing shadows where there are no shadows.”

White​ ​House​ ​official​

​“Every time there’s a palace intrigue story or negative story about Reince, the whole West Wing shuts down.”

Senior​ ​White​ ​House​ ​official

“It’s gotten embarrassing.”

Senior​ ​White​ ​House​ ​aide
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster National Security Advisor (February 2017 - Present)

"He wants to send more troops to Afghanistan, so we're going to send him."

The nationalists
Ivanka Trump First Daughter (January 2017 - Present)

"Toward the end of the meeting Ivanka Trump entered the Oval Office to 'say hello' and the meeting careened off topic."

Aide with knowledge

“Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka’s presence.”


“Everyone knew that Jared’s father was a felon and her father was a buffoon, but you looked past that because they stood on their own two feet and were sophisticated and presentable. They were accepted despite their parents. Now, there’s no separating the two.”

One well-known socialite who was friendly with Ivanka

“I know her well enough to know her relationship with her father, which is that she will never, ever, go against the grain.”

Former fashion-world friend who has socialized with Ivanka for years but has not spoken to her since she moved to Washington

“She wanted to be the apple of her father’s eye. There’s no question, she worked hard to be the perfect image her father wanted.”

Close friend of the family, who has known Ivanka Trump her entire life

“Sometimes she and Jared are a big influence on Donald and sometimes he takes other opinions into account and does something they disagree with. They win some and they lose some.”

Ivanka insider

“She’s the person he listens to more than anyone.”

Ivanka friend
“The Mooch”
Communications Director (July 2017 - July 2017)

“If only he could've kept his mouth shut.”

The Mooch's friends and associates
Health care repeal: Part 1

“We take [Republican lawmakers’] views seriously and we’re listening, but we do appreciate when those concerns are shared privately and with a smaller megaphone.”


“Our view is: There’s nothing as clarifying as the smell of Air Force One jet fuel. So if he needs to bring in the plane and do a rally, he’s going to think about doing that.”

White House official

After that defeat, Mr. Trump’s staff noticed that the president had adopted a practice of merging the two men’s names into one long “Ryan-ce.”

Several West Wing aides

"It's like you're in a room with 2-year-olds, and one side complains about any attention you give the other.”

White House official

"I'm worried about everything right now.”

Senior Republican operative who's in the war

"I think the reality of the Senate process is setting in."

Top Republican
The firing of FBI Director James Comey

“It is a debacle."

Republican in constant touch with the West Wing

“[Is Trump] in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion?”

GOP figure close to the White House

“They just barely got the tiniest bit of momentum going after the House health care bill, and now it's like the engine has fallen out of the car.”

Outside adviser to the West Wing

“This is probably the most egregious example of press and communications incompetence since we’ve been here. It was an absolute disaster. And the president watched it unfold firsthand. He could see it.”

West Wing official

"The team are rank amateurs who picked a fight with the intelligence agencies and the FBI. Hard to unite those historically competitive organizations. And they have the ability to find out almost anything!"


“They were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”

White House official


Top White House aide
Health care repeal: Part 2

"No need to let this bill fester if it's going to fail."

A source close to Senate leadership

"Does Trump team think it's smart to attack the most endangered GOP senator [Nevada’s Dean Heller], from a state Trump lost? This is the second-dumbest thing Trump has done since firing Comey."

Longtime lion of the GOP

"Unpopular presidents pushing unpopular proposals usually fail."

Republican close to Senate leadership

“That definitely didn’t result from any policy discussions. It’s not that [Trump’s] aides lack confidence in knowing what he wants, but what he wants today and what he wants tomorrow are not going to be the same thing.”

A Republican close to the White House

"We are walking into an autumn of discontent.... They are in this terrible box on health care and they're about to get blamed for it because they did what I've been calling that Bon Jovi rally at the White House—because they were halfway there."

Source close to the Republican congressional leadership

“People have tried to assuage him by saying, ‘You're just not helping yourself.’ He doesn't care.”


“In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong. This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn't realize how bad this is getting.”

Adviser to the White House

“[Trump is a] caged animal [under Kelly].”

One person close to Trump

"He's just not as good as he thinks he is. And no one can tell him."

One of Trump’s most ardent defenders

"Trump's not as evil as portrayed."

Senior administration officials

“It’s always been like this. I’m anesthetized.”


“You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill."

Senior administration officials

"If you see a guy about to stab someone with a knife, you don't need to huddle to decide to grab the knife."

Top official, on White House efforts to contain Trump

“[The CEOs decided they] couldn't justify the capital they were spending, hoping that this guy can function in a somewhat mature and statesmanlike way."

An executive involved in the decision to disband Trump’s business board
Dealing with the boss

"Trump is like Ollie North. He actually believes the stuff he's lying about."

One of Washington's best-connected Republicans

“The president likes maps.”


"He only asks you a lot of questions when he's unhappy. If he thinks things are going well, he just tells you how well it's going.”

Person who recently talked to Trump and knows him well

“You're not going to see Trump come out and say, 'I was wrong. If you're waiting on him to take the blame, you're going to be waiting a long time."

Person who spoke with the president recently

"These people are insecure because Trump does not respect them. He does not because they have not made any money. He respects [Steve] Bannon and Gary Cohn because they are financially successful."

A person in constant contact with the West Wing

"Trump is thinking through his frustrations. The team didn't put the windows in right."

One Washington wise man close to the West Wing

“Once he goes upstairs, there’s no managing him.”


“If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins. To talk him out of doing crazy things.”

Trump confidante

"He's never going to say he did a bad job."

Top aide

“The possibility that the president is annoyed and angry and yells at someone in the building is not of a lot of consequence to me because it happens all of the time.”

Informal yet frequent adviser to the White House

“[Trump is] like when there's a new strange kid in the class nobody likes. You behave civilly when teachers [i.e., media watch but don't spend time with him in private because he's so different.”

Senior EU official

"You never know when you're going to get thrown under the bus. He has this constant need for reassurance and affirmation that he takes out on the staff."


“[Trump is looking for] original gangsters [and] wants people who will take bullets for him.”

Former Trump adviser

"He used to love Oreos but he really did stop eating them once they moved [their plants] to Mexico."

Former aide

“[Trump has] probably taken 10,000 pictures."

Senior White House official

"'Check the lighting.' 'Are your eyes closed?' 'Do you want another? Do you want another?' He knows these are special moments for people."

Senior White House official, describing Trump’s comments when taking photos with people

“He feels like this is not what he signed up for, and his accomplishments are being underplayed. He just looks around and says, ‘When is this going to get better?’”

Source close to the president

“He’s not a details guy.”

White House official
Office morale

“People are scared. [It’s] a pretty hostile environment to work in.”

Senior administration aide

“I wouldn't call it paranoia under the circumstances. It’s not paranoia if people really are out to get you, and everybody actually is out to get everyone else."

A Republican who communicates with many administration aides through encrypted apps

“We chose to hire a lot of alphas. People in politics are insecure and will either adapt to the fact that this is an entrepreneurial White House and survive, or they won’t. The cream will rise and the [expletive] will sink.”

Top Trump adviser

"We've added a little due process. The question still is: Can we herd all the cats?"

Top official

“Why were they there? Now the expectation is you have to be in every picture and every meeting.”

Senior official, discussing the number of staffers at every meeting

"No one says 'Yes, sir' in this White House. We say: 'F--k you.'"

Top official

“In general, there is a lot of insecurity.”

Senior administration official

“It’s a campaign administration. You walk in and there’s a pastor from Des Moines, Iowa, and a couple of small-business guys. You’re waiting for the cats and dogs to walk through.”

Someone who recently paid a visit to the White House

"This is becoming The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. It's starting to remind people of the Carter administration."

Outside adviser to the West Wing

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this sh*t is hard.”

White House official

“The real question is, how long do you put up with it? Every one of those people could get a better-paying job and work less hours.”


Many aides are “deeply, deeply miserable. But it’s not easy to just walk out of the White House. You think you’re helping.”

Senior administration official
The investigation

"The White House says they have the investigation under control. Volunteering to sit down with a special prosecutor is kind of the definition of things not being under control."

Well-wired Republican

“It’s basically all he talks about on the phone.”

Adviser who has spoken with Trump and his top aides

"A week ago, we were talking about the agenda grinding to a halt. Now, the train is going down the hill backwards."

Well-known Republican operative who has worked to help the Trump White House

“We are kind of helpless.”


"We're getting street fighters ready to go."

Trump ally familiar with the preparations

“It feels like people should be more worried to me. No one has told me to hire a lawyer or not to hire a lawyer. So I’m not hiring one yet.”

Person familiar with the issue

“Their complete inability to get ahead of the Russia story is so strange to people."

Top GOP operative

“Please, don’t, you’re not helping things.”

Republican close to the White House, summing up the staff’s mantra

"Another week, and no progress on the GOP agenda. Infrastructure Week turned into Comey Week. No one really knows Trump and came to D.C. with him. He is a president on an island, all alone. ... [T]he ability to get anything done is in double jeopardy."

GOP sage