When Axios reported final month on President Trump’s mild each day schedule — cushioned by loads of leisurely “government time” — one specific Tuesday stood out.
Amongst a trio of conferences there was, as to be anticipated, one with White Home chief of workers John Kelly and one other with H.R. McMaster, the highest nationwide safety official within the nation.
After which, simply earlier than Trump referred to as it a day, there was a half hour with Johnny DeStefano.
“Anybody else can be strolling round with a head like a zeppelin after seeing that,” one former coworker stated after recognizing DeStefano’s title within the story. “However Johnny’s Johnny.”
DeStefano at all times thrives, in one other good friend’s estimation, by gravitating towards “the unmanageable and unwinnable” — and managing to win. That helps clarify his rising standing in a Trump White Home dominated by loud battle. DeStefano outlasted the Republican Nationwide Committee veterans who introduced him into the fold, and survived a feud with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His title, director of the Workplace of Presidential Personnel, undersells his widening affect. Latest studies had him assuming no less than momentary management of three different departments: Intergovernmental Affairs, Public Liaison, and Political Affairs.
For weeks the White Home had not confirmed the strikes publicly, although administration officers had acknowledged that DeStefano had taken on a bigger position in executing the political agenda. Friday night, after this story had revealed, and amid a Trump administration disaster involving different prime staffers, the White Home introduced that DeStefano now oversees the workplaces of Political Affairs and Public Liaison, along with Personnel.
So, in a midterm yr that might activate Trump’s unpredictable judgment — the president’s involvement in final yr’s Senate race in Alabama and his intention to play favorites in GOP primaries fray the nerves of weak Republicans — DeStefano stands as a quiet middle of energy.
“You’re not going to get him to speak for this story,” one longtime colleague, who’s conversant in the interior workings of the White Home and nationwide social gathering, predicted to BuzzFeed Information. “He is aware of that his utility is that he’s going to be trusted.”
DeStefano, who certainly declined interview requests, largely retains the total scope of his duties a thriller to these on the skin. Initially, Reince Priebus, the previous RNC chair and Trump’s first chief of workers, noticed in DeStefano a gentle institution hand who, as personnel director, might assist rent the correct authorities for an anti-establishment president.
His lengthy historical past of going by “Johnny” — buddies textual content DeStefano mockingly each time they see him recognized as “John” — and his consideration to look complement a actuality TV celeb turned president who favors aides who look and sound the half. His buddies say this additionally endeared him to his previous boss, former Home Speaker John Boehner. “Johnny at all times appears to be like nice, at all times has a tie on,” stated Deborah Pryce, a former Ohio lawmaker. “He simply form of had the Boehner Approach.”
However DeStefano is aware of he’s not the star of the present. On that rating, interviews with greater than a dozen buddies and coworkers have been an train in déjà vu.
“He’s no-drama,” stated Man Harrison, who labored with DeStefano on the Nationwide Republican Congressional Committee. “There are mattress wetters and drama queens in politics. Being the one that is calm within the face of chaos at all times helps.”
“Bear in mind the man in Entourage, Johnny Drama? That is like Johnny No Drama,” provided Kevin Madden, a fellow Boehner alum.
“He doesn’t get entangled in numerous drama,” noticed a 3rd Republican.
DeStefano has earned a repute for tackling difficult jobs in politics. When Pryce was going through a brutal reelection race in 2006, GOP leaders have been nervous her workforce lacked the high-end political chops to outlive a Democratic wave. DeStefano, who served as coalitions director for the Pryce-led Home Republican Convention, was referred to as in as marketing campaign supervisor. Pryce received by 1,062 votes.
“They despatched him right here to get issues organized. And that’s a troublesome factor to do in Columbus, the place you’ve all these super-geniuses,” stated Matt Borges, a longtime Republican strategist in Ohio. “However Johnny did it, and he received.”
The victory impressed Boehner. Then the Home minority chief, the Ohioan introduced DeStefano into his interior circle. For the subsequent six years, DeStefano held a wide range of key jobs on the Capitol and within the wider political community of Boehner Land. Later, within the speaker’s workplace, he dealt with member providers. Usually that meant DeStefano was the bearer of unhealthy information, like when a lawmaker didn’t get a most well-liked committee task or another plum from Boehner.
“It’s actually a troublesome job, as a result of whether or not you’re Nancy Pelosi as speaker or Paul Ryan as speaker or John Boehner as speaker, you’re chief of the complaints workplace,” stated Pat Tiberi, a not too long ago retired congressman from Ohio who bonded with DeStefano. “Johnny was a fixer. He tried to repair issues and anticipate issues.”
Subsequent, DeStefano was picked to run Knowledge Belief — a corporation that crunches voter knowledge for the RNC — after the disastrous 2012 election that laid naked Republican deficiencies in knowledge. DeStefano steered enhancements that delivered higher ends in 2014 and 2016, throughout Priebus’s tenure operating the social gathering.
And from there it was on to the Trump White Home. A lot of DeStefano’s buddies confess they have been shocked the job was provided to and accepted by a veteran of Boehner Land. The previous speaker was an emblem of the swamp Trump promised to empty, and he was hardly shy in his criticism of the billionaire, whom he referred to as “barely a Republican.”
DeStefano, stated one previous good friend, “was the quintessential man who was telling everybody, ‘We’ve bought to have good folks there’ — justifying it.”
Others consider the institution vs. anti-establishment dynamic is overblown.
“Is he institution? Sure. However he’s not institution to the diploma that somebody who was a senior George W. Bush White Home staffer or somebody who had labored for [the] Bush household in a number of iterations,” Brett Loper, a former prime Boehner aide, stated of DeStefano. “He’s not a disciple of the Wall Road Journal editorial board. He grew up via the ranks of the social gathering, not the coverage facet of the social gathering.”
DeStefano overcame some bumps in his first yr. Tillerson, in response to a report in Politico, lashed out at him in a gathering for not filling State Division positions shortly sufficient. (A spokesperson for Tillerson declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed Information.)
“Even when Johnny was being criticized for the way issues have been being dealt with, he by no means went public to defend himself,” one DeStefano ally stated. “He absorbed the bullets.
“What he realized was to at all times put the boss first.”
Tarini Parti contributed reporting.