Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House, by Cliff Sims

Eight stars

While there have been many tell-all books about the Trump White House, many seek only to create the largest bloodbath possible. Scorning President Trump and those around him proves to be a message that sells copies and helps to rile up the reading/general public. Enter Cliff Sims, whose work on the Trump Campaign and in the White House offers an insider’s view of the man and those who surrounded him. Providing more of a velvet glove approach, Sims recounts that he was lured away from his burgeoning radio and online presence in Alabama to work on the Campaign. He helped Trump craft effective communication strategies while guiding the candidate through the various hoops, made more difficult when dealing with a mix of Trump loyalists and RNC devotees. This example introduces the first theme of the book, the splintered core group. Sims argues throughout that the collection of staffers who surrounded Trump were rarely of the same mind. Sure, there will be differences within every group, but these vastly varied views did less to provide interesting political banter and more to erode the team’s foundation, thereby helping to weaken the Trump message. Sims exemplifies this on many occasions, as different characters sought to stab others in the back or toss them to the wolves, including the likes of former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who orchestrated Sims’ ouster. The book’s title seems quite apt, as there were vipers at every turn, ready to strike. Sims also tries to argue that any relationship with Trump was less about political acumen and more a personal connection. Sims explains that Trump cared less about a person’s politics than how they treated him in general, which can be supported repeated when speaking of the interactions with Trump and former House Speak Paul Ryan. On numerous occasions, because the Speaker had a chilly personal connection to Trump, there was little respect between them when discussing political and policy issues. Both Sims and many others in the mainstream media speak of the loyalty factor demanded by Trump, which helps colour many of his interactions and better explains why there are some with whom he will not negotiate, no matter the topic. A final theme seen throughout the book comes from a metaphor Sims uses during one of his numerous vignettes, in which he describes work in the White House as being ‘more wooden than golden’. While he has few regrets about his time there, Sims repeatedly speaks of the drama and daily chaos that wore much of the lustre off ‘assistant to the President’ and left many feeling as though the position was cumbersome. The allure of Washington may seem classy to many, but time within the Trump White House can quickly remove any glory and leave a person feeling the brunt of attacks. Without tossing any one person under the bus, Sims does recount that his time there lost its pizzazz when having to dodge bullets and defend news stories, while dancing on eggshells from morning until well past dusk. What could have been magical ended up being maniacal and kept Sims from being able to flourish to his full potential. A thoroughly intriguing look inside the Trump White House, without solely recounting backstabbing of staff and the president himself, Sims saves much of his grandstanding for media and those who had sour grapes of their own. Worth a look by those with an interest in the topic, though I’d steer clear if you want POTUS evisceration.

It is refreshing to get an insider’s look of any political situation without all the drama and bloodletting. Cliff Sims does an effective job at laying things out as he saw them, offering ups and downs alongside support and distancing, whenever he saw fit. He chose not to be a complete sycophant to Trump, but surely sided with him more than he disagreed, leading to his long stay on the White House team. Sims develops his book in a seemingly chronological fashion, bouncing around a little to fit the various themes. The narrative shows a progress that the reader can follow as well as key events used as marker to gauge how well or poorly those closest to Trump felt he was doing. While I enjoyed this slow development, there was also the ongoing need to poke holes into much of the media portrayal of things that happened in the White House, as well as a few of the other tell-all books that have hit the marketplace. While it is surely an attempt to climb over these other authors and sell his ‘definitive’ account, the conscious and attentive reader can take it all with a grain of sand and realize that Sims surely wants to stay on the good side of Hurricane Trump. Still, it was a decent effort to knock others down in the process. One must also scoff a little at the somewhat juvenile censoring of direct quotes found within the text. As I listened on audio, I was sure that the publisher might have been trying a little something to ‘protect the innocent ears of the listener’, but only later discovered when flipping through the book that Sims dashes out much of the raw language. While not a trucker or sailor by any account, one need not be so prudish as not play such games. I realise that Sims may want to use his Southern charm, but if you’re going to quote them, do so. Your pastor will not smite you down, of that I am sure. (Before anyone seeks to slander me for presuming there is anything religious about Sims, he repeats his church attendance and strong faith throughout the piece, that being to God and not Trump alone.) With detailed chapters and a great deal of direct discussion of topics widely covered, as well as new fodder to add to the mix, Sims effectively shows that life in the Trump White House is better than any circus that has come to town. I think I am Trumped out—no more tell-all books for me—until the gaggle of GOP folks decide to run against him in the primaries.

Kudos, Mr. Sims, on this well-crafted piece of writing. I did learn a great deal and am eager to see how things play out in the coming year. You do, however unintentionally, show me that Trump remains a real asp… to play along with your title theme.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: