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Recent Scandals Highlight Trump's Chaotic Management Style

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

So far, President Trump has tried to run the White House a lot like the way he ran his family business. That means little rigid organization and a small group of staffers who are loyal but not necessarily experienced. As the president has tried to take his improvisational style from Trump Tower to the White House, the results have been mixed. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Donald Trump's business empire was flashy, personality-driven, often a little chaotic. Journalist David Cay Johnston, who wrote "The Making Of Donald Trump," says running the Trump Organization was not exactly good preparation for the most powerful political job on the planet.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Donald's business had a very small staff. He was the absolute ruler of his business empire, which is not at all how the White House works.

HORSLEY: Trump now finds himself in charge of a vast federal bureaucracy that neither he, nor some of his Cabinet nominees know much about. He's bristled at the idea that presidential orders can be blocked by a federal judge. And he's upended long-standing foreign policy doctrine - as he did today, questioning the two-state solution in the Middle East - as casually as though he were simply changing the drapes in the lobby of a Trump hotel.

JOHNSTON: A lot of what Donald does is seat of the pants. He contends he's a great negotiator. He's really not a great negotiator. He's just great at promoting the idea that he's a great negotiator.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE APPRENTICE")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've mastered the art of the deal. And I've turned the name Trump into the highest quality brand.

HORSLEY: Trump boosted the value of that brand through 14 seasons on "The Apprentice," dishing out advice while playing a successful businessman on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE APPRENTICE")

TRUMP: A good leader has to be able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of employees.

HORSLEY: That skill was tested this week at the White House, when Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after making false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His spokesman Sean Spicer insists the president acted decisively.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: He is one of those people that we've noted before when he's ready to make a decision, he makes it, whether it's hiring somebody or asking for someone's resignation.

HORSLEY: In fact, it's kind of Trump's TV trademark.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE APPRENTICE")

TRUMP: You're fired.

You're fired.

You're fired.

HORSLEY: Former employees say in real life, Trump doesn't like to fire people. The president also seems comfortable surrounded by competing personalities and power centers in the White House. That can generate a lot of friction and palace intrigue, but not everyone thinks it's a bad thing.

CHRIS DEMUTH: It could make things pretty intense on the inside. But for the rest of us on the outside, it tends to lead to wiser decisions.

HORSLEY: Chris DeMuth of the conservative Hudson Institute says Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan also pitted staff members against one another, often with creative results. DeMuth also shares the president's view that being unpredictable is a good thing.

DEMUTH: If we look back through history, there are several of our presidents who actually cultivated a reputation for unpredictability. Richard Nixon was very good at promoting the idea that, you know, he could be just a little bit crazy.

HORSLEY: Unless that unpredictability is calibrated though, friends can be thrown off balance as well. Journalist David Cay Johnston, who launched the new site DCReport, says that can make it harder for the president to actually advance his agenda.

JOHNSTON: Running government is no different than assembling an automobile, making a movie. There are lots of different parts who have to be brought together and coordinated with a knowledge of how do you achieve that. Trump doesn't have those skills.

HORSLEY: The administration is less than a month old, of course, so adjustments could still be made. After the botched rollout of the travel ban, for example, the White House chief of staff reportedly drew up a checklist to see that future initiatives go through proper channels. Trump the improviser often seems impatient with checklists, but as he once said on "The Apprentice," it's important to adapt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE APPRENTICE")

TRUMP: Oftentimes things go wrong, and there's just not much you can do about it. But a really good leader will step up, take responsibility and really just find the right solution.

HORSLEY: The question's whether Trump himself can learn that lesson from his own political apprenticeship. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREAK SONG, "HARD PROOF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.