WASHINGTON — Mike Donilon is one of the most trusted presidential advisers in the Biden White House, however he comes and goes from his West Wing workplace nearly as a spectral presence.
Described by those that have labored with him as having the demeanor of a parish priest, he abhors chatting with the information media and isn’t significantly chatty along with his personal colleagues. On convention calls, they describe him as a low talker. “Hey, it’s Mike,” he’ll say, usually in a barely audible voice.
Mr. Donilon’s low-key presence, regardless of his appreciable affect over the chief of the free world, is emblematic of the general tradition of the Biden White House: It is the least personality-driven West Wing in many years.
Because of his longevity in politics and underdog character, mixed with the depth of the crises he’s going through, President Biden is undoing a longstanding Washington custom by which employees members take pleasure in their very own refracted fame.
Gone are the days when a counselor to the president like Kellyanne Conway was so well-known that she needed her own security detail; when a White House press secretary like Sean Spicer was a recurring character on “Saturday Night Live”; when a coverage adviser like Stephen Miller was not solely acknowledged however booed out of a restaurant; and when a glamorous, drama-prone communications director like Hope Hicks was photographed regularly by the paparazzi as she left her dwelling in exercise garments.
Proximity to energy has a approach of attracting curiosity regardless of whether or not it’s coveted, and Mr. Biden’s aides should find yourself extra well-known than they got down to be. But Biden employees members seem like attempting to set themselves aside from the drama of the Trump administration, which the former president ran like a actuality present.
The phenomenon of the movie star employees might need been pronounced throughout these years, however President Donald J. Trump didn’t invent it.
“Every White House takes on the personality of the president,” mentioned Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who turned a well-known determine himself after showing in “The War Room,” a documentary about the 1992 Clinton marketing campaign.
“President Clinton didn’t mind having famous staffers,” Mr. Begala mentioned. “He enjoyed it. There’s a blue-collar sensibility with Biden and his team. You carry your pail to work, you punch the clock. You just show up every day and do your job.”
Part of that’s as a result of of the well being and financial crises that Mr. Biden inherited: The administration’s once-in-a-generation coverage pushes that may form his time in workplace have additional restricted consideration on the personalities staffing the president.
Mr. Biden can also be surrounded by much less of a cult of character than his two fast predecessors. Mr. Trump and President Barack Obama had been charismatic politicians whose speedy rises in nationwide politics had been largely primarily based on their private magnetism. In the Biden White House, senior officers usually maintain their heads down and dwell extra like nameless bureaucrats than the movie star employees members who’ve preceded them.
Even although Mr. Obama additionally took workplace throughout an financial disaster, shut advisers like Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, Jon Favreau and David Axelrod turned Washington-famous, if not well-known sufficient to earn their very own recurring comedy sketches. Mr. Obama’s reliance on these well-known West Wing aides usually rankled cupboard secretaries, who felt as in the event that they had been working as outposts, removed from the fast sphere of affect.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, the strategist Karl Rove was topped with “genius” standing and known as “Bush’s brain.” The press secretary Tony Snow, already a well-known character for Fox News, was mobbed for autographs at rallies and headlined his personal occasions.
During the Clinton administration, operatives like James Carville and George Stephanopoulos entered authorities as bona fide film stars after their turns in “The War Room.” At the time, Mr. Stephanopoulos was courting a Hollywood movie star, the actress Jennifer Grey.
Times have modified. Today, partly as a result of of coronavirus restrictions, nobody goes to embassy events or e-book soirees.
During the presidential transition, officers additionally determined to rely extra on cupboard secretaries — many of whom are former mayors, governors and representatives — than employees to function the face of Mr. Biden’s insurance policies and proposals, a notable departure from the Obama mannequin.
Aides say Mr. Biden doesn’t like profiles of his employees in the information media, however he’s wanting to see his cupboard secretaries on tv defending his insurance policies.
“That is a very deliberate decision,” mentioned Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden. “This is a president who wanted to make sure he had a cabinet that was a fully empowered.”
Some folks near Mr. Biden attributed his aversion to attention-loving employees to earlier political failures. During his 1988 run for president, he relied on Patrick Caddell, a movie star political marketing consultant credited with electing Jimmy Carter to the White House, to assist him discover a message. Mr. Biden finally severed relations with Mr. Caddell after a disastrous marketing campaign that included accusations of plagiarism and exaggerations of his tutorial information. Mr. Biden blamed the employees he surrounded himself with.
“I got mired in personalities,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1988, “not my opponents’ but my own political operatives. I never solved the guru problem.”
Mr. Biden’s present aides say that he finally solved that downside by surrounding himself with low-key individuals who knew they weren’t gurus.
Some of the president’s closest advisers — like Bruce Reed, his adviser and former chief of employees, and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, his former marketing campaign supervisor and present deputy chief of employees — are nearly by no means heard from. The White House press workplace didn’t reply to requests to make Mr. Donilon accessible for remark for this story.
Even officers who entered the administration with a profile of their very own — like Symone D. Sanders, a onetime CNN commentator who’s now an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris — have develop into much less seen.
Ron Klain, the White House chief of employees, mentioned the lack of well-known personalities in the West Wing was attributable to a tone Mr. Biden had set. But it was additionally a product of an skilled crew of folks, Mr. Klain mentioned, many of whom had already confirmed themselves and had been on their second excursions in authorities.
“The vast majority of people here are career staff people, not principals from other sectors placed into White House staff jobs, so that’s the culture,” he mentioned. Many of the employees had been “parents of young kids who put their off-hours energy into being parents, not into staff drama.”