×

Why Trump's current team of advisors actually might stick around

  • The Trump administration has already been rocked with a lot more than the usual amount of firings and defections.
  • Gary Cohn seems like he's next, but could be saved because of his vital role in the tax reform fight.
  • If Trump can sustain better poll numbers, his team will gain more cohesion and consistency.
White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, right, talks to President Donald Trump, left, prior to a working session at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017.
Michael Sohn | AP
White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, right, talks to President Donald Trump, left, prior to a working session at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017.

As President Donald Trump makes deals with congressional Democrats and continues his national barnstorming campaign for tax reform, is the Trump cabinet and the overall White House team going to remain as is?

It's a fair question to ask as the Trump administration has often resembled a brutal set of "Survivor" episodes with key players getting voted off the island with regularity.

Just to recap, Reince Priebus is out, Michael Flynn is out, Sean Spicer is out, Steve Bannon is out, Anthony Scaramucci was briefly in and then quickly out, Sebastian Gorka is out, and... you get the idea.

So who are the most likely candidates to leave next?

Based on the events of the last three weeks or so, White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn seems next to go. His public criticism of President Trump's controversial response to the white supremacist march-tuned riot in Charlottesville, Virginia in August has reportedly piqued the president's anger. And when compared to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's defense of President Trump, Cohn's words clearly packed more of a punch. A Wall Street Journal report already says President Trump is less likely to nominate Cohn to be the next Federal Reserve chairman over this incident.

Yep, Cohn sure looks like he's toast. But so did Attorney General Jeff Sessions about six weeks ago. One of the reasons he stayed on became evident this week when Sessions took the point role in the Trump administration's plans to replace the DACA policy protecting the children of illegal immigrants from deportation. And just like Sessions, Cohn is playing a key role in pushing President Trump's tax reform efforts. Those efforts would take a hit if Cohn is ousted, and the president is ramping up the urgency on tax reform every day:

That tax reform caveat puts Cohn at pretty much even money, as opposed to more of a sure thing, to be gone sometime before the end of the month.

The next most likely head on the chopping block is Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Unlike Sessions, or many of the now departed Trump team members, there's no evidence President Trump is in any way angry at Chao or disappointed in her performance. But the sticky issue is that she is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And if President Trump resumes personally bashing McConnell and/or continues doing end runs around him by making deals with Democrats, her tenure in the administration could become untenable.

After Cohn and Chao, some of the other candidates include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or Defense Secretary James Mattis bolting or getting shown the door.

But Tillerson and Mattis are looking like longer shot candidates to go lately. The fact that neither of them have been the victims of any public attacks or criticisms from the president himself is a big deal. Let's face it, President Trump is pretty open about his personal piques. More importantly, President Trump seems especially pleased with Tillerson's work in the Middle East and the success he believes Mattis is achieving against ISIS.

And then there's a major X factor in this entire conversation: Polls.

"Cohn is playing a key role in pushing President Trump's tax reform efforts. Those efforts would take a hit if Cohn is ousted."

The Trump team's cohesion will depend greatly on the president's standing in the polls. The better he does, the less likely it is we'll see more defections and firings, and vice versa.

That's good news for people who like the current team, because President Trump's poll numbers are starting to come back a bit. He's back up to 45 percent approval after falling to 39 percent in the Rasmussen Poll a month ago. He's also showing a rebounding trend in the Reuters/Ipsos poll. His response to Hurricane Harvey seems to be developing into some sort of a turning point. Of course, his numbers are still historically low for a new president, but the trend is his friend lately.

If President Trump starts to approach 50 percent approval in any major poll in the coming days and weeks, expect Cohn, Chao, Tillerson, Mattis, and everyone else of note to stay put. If another Charlottesville-like incident occurs, all bets are off.

The bottom line is that all new administrations experience a rough start of sorts that usually leave a number of staffers on the outs in year one. The Trump administration has simply had a much rougher time of it so far, but now there is something of a light at the end of this particular tunnel for this administration.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.