What was Biden’s no-drip secret? At first he ran relatively leak-free Presidential campaign reflecting the leak-proof practices of the Obama administration in which he served. As a gaff-prone, it probably wasn’t easy for him to close, but it seemed second nature to him. Biden ran his campaign from his basement and didn’t feel the need to lick to get on the news. If he wanted attention, he could quickly and efficiently control the focus of the press corps. The lesson extended to his staff, who tended to keep traps closed and not fill in the blanks with anonymous comments for persistent reporters. In December, Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki exposed this covert strategy when she promised The new administration would speak with one voice, directly addressing the back-stabbing and double leak that was typical of the Trump presidency.
One reason Biden has been unable to hold his first press operator is because his news discipline has eased the drama and trillions of dollars in relief caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Biden have their point of view and stick to it.
The Trump administration leaked so profusely because he had assembled not a team of rivals to serve under him, but a team of enemies who used the press to wage their political battles and publicly wage psychological wars against one another . For example, the Javanka faction in his White House set a personal PR agenda separate from that of the President, and their enemies in the White House have forever divulged information about the power couple in order to deactivate them. Biden, who has no analogous warring factions, found it easier to keep the peace.
Trump longed for and reveled in these internal deathmatches, something you can’t imagine Biden. Trump called his kitchen cabinet forever Corporate titans and irregularities like Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, and Sean Hannity for advice and gossip, and those conversations tended to leak. Biden, on the other hand, tends not to seek advice from a lawyer. His closest advisers have been the same people for decades, and they are physically installed close to him in the west wing. With fewer people trying the unadulterated Biden in fewer places, less gossip flows to reporters. After all, Trump was notorious for not keeping up with his reading. Often times, when an aide wanted to draw his attention to an issue, the best way to get it to his boss was to get it on TV and get the material on to reporters so Trump could see it on the cable news. This put Trump on both the supply and demand sides for leaks.
Then of course Trump was a born leaker himself. (Who can forget his enthusiasm for the WikiLeaks Dumps on the Democrats?) Long before his presidency, Trump fed the New York press corps with blind quotes about his competitors, celebrities, public order, fashion, crime, whatever he liked, sometimes with that nom de gossip from “John Barron” or “John Miller” to plant stories. In his 2018 book Trump’s White House: changing the rules of the game, Journalist Ronald Kessler claims Trump managed the news by calling reporters and feeding them drugs that he insisted on being attributed to “a senior White House official.” Kessler continues: “In other cases, the media has recorded reports of what Trump himself said to his friends.”
The most reliable non-Trump spigot for leaks was top adviser Kellyanne Conway, Kessler wrote, and her example inspired others in the White House to lick. The more Trump aids leaked and the more they got away with it – think about how a middle-level Trumpie wrote one anonymous New York Times talked about Trump’s White House and then an entire book? – the more they did. It is just a slight exaggeration to say that there were more leaks than non-leaks in Trump’s universe.
Trump and his Trumpies believed in government through titration in order to constantly excite the masses with shocking information, either to divert attention from a crisis or to blame Trump again for the news cycle. Biden’s natural instinct was sober – more tea than tequila. It’s also easy to speculate that the sullen, dutiful, and boring political sounds emanating from his White House are a deliberate attempt at counter-programming to dampen the excitement Trump insisted on orchestrating. On the other hand, the Trump administration has leaked so permeably because Trump and his aides were routinely involved in behaviors that were grossly leaky. By giving so many cabinet officials and senior officials the mean side of his boot, Trump made sure that they would lick their grudges down with him.
It was really a runaway presidency. The Flynn calls, the Black Sites memo, and instructions to the FBI to discredit Russian interaction were just early examples. Trump later became indignant – his comments on “Shit hole“Countries; its disclosure of classified Information on visiting Russian dignitaries; the unorthodox processing of Jared KushnerSecurity checks; the Transcripts of his crouched phone conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia; and on and on – were all main courses for reporters. Insider sources who contradicted Trump’s policies and behavior were willing to undermine his reach by dropping a dime on him. Biden may be involved in a similar range, but if so, his people haven’t reached the leak point yet. Their relative silence, even as they wrestled the $ 1.9 trillion relief python through Congress, implies a behind-the-scenes unanimity of everything Biden does in public. In general, people don’t lick when things are going well – and Biden’s approval rating signals that they are going well despite a number of big issues.
Axios Jonathan Swan, who has written intelligently on the subject, believes that Trump’s White House culture dictated that one should leak out before it leaked. Some Trump leaks followed political clashes, with the frustrated loser blowing up the winner one last time to improve. “By relaying the decision, the loser has one last chance to kill her with a backlash from the public, Congress, or even the President,” an anonymous source told Swan. So far, such disputes have remained off the stage in the Biden administration and been suppressed before they have leaked.
Eventually the Biden administration will expire because every administration does. Whistleblowers will whistle, someone in the administration will feel hurt and reciprocated, an international incident will blow the administration in the face, the administration will split into factions and people will start talking out of line. But until that bill comes, the waterworks will remain calm and Biden will continue to project an image more statesmanlike than any of the animatronic directors of Walt Disney World Hall of Presidents.
This is the first time I write about leaks without quoting them Stephen Hess and his lovely book on the subject. Please read it. Send book recommendations to [email protected]. My Email notifications have teamed up with mine Twitter feed a leak campaign against mine RSS Lining. My RSS feed says, “Bring it on.”