It took Donald Trump 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to buy himself one day of kind coverage at the end of another otherwise terrible week. But what the president himself described as an impulsive reaction to heartrending photos of Syrian children gassed by Assad on his watch isn’t a coherent strategy to punish Assad for using chemical weapons.
Even supporters who hoped the strike would show Trump as a he-man leader willing to grasp the saber of state in his tiny hands and rattle it firmly, it failed to paper over the political crisis consuming his White House as his staff and family have become warring factions seeking his favor so that the story has become not about the president’s goals, policies, or accomplishments, but a group of people around him who make the Borgias look like the Brady Bunch.
Trump is faced with terrible options when it comes to rearranging the deck chairs on the SS White House, and those of us who warned you this was inevitable are ordering popcorn. The cancer in the presidency isn’t his staff—though they reflect his shoddy intellect, his shallow impulsiveness, his loose grasp of reality, and Chinese-menu ideology. The problem is Trump himself, and nothing and no one can change that.
Let’s start with the leader of the Pepe Army sleeper cell at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Steve Bannon. If Trump keeps his chief strategist, he keeps the poisonous, post-conservative nationalism and thinly-veiled racial and religious animus that helped put him in the Oval Office. Bannon was great at running a conspiracy blog, but his political instincts are those of an arsonist, not a strategist. He has led Trump into a series of unforced political debacles, tainted relations with Congress, and alienated members of America’s new royal family.
He’s already become persona non grata in Congress for his absurdly villainous performance trying unsuccessfully to browbeat them into accepting the ludicrously unpopular Trumpcare bill, and his economic nationalism is big-government statism wrapped in populist trade and industrial policies. Bannon is a famous brawler, and like many brawlers after too many beers, he lashes out any anyone for lookin’ at him funny. A Bannon power center in the White House is as dangerous as its vacuum.
If he fires Bannon, Trump should prepare for war. The information warfare architecture Bannon built with the money of Robert and Rebekah Mercer is already restive and nervous that Trump has been co-opted by (((them))) and lured into being a more conventional president. Since the Trumpbart/Bannon/Mercer propaganda platform helped elect Trump with its lurid “reporting” and its troll army (shoutout to Putin!), it can just easily be turned against him. Trump’s social media power was always boosted by—if not contingent upon—this system, and the idea of a vengeful Bannon turning those tools against him should keep Donald awake at night.
If Bannon is cut loose, the old Washington adage of “better to have your enemy inside the tent pissing out” will come into play. The coverage of Trump in the Bannon/Mercer echo chamber will go from “gushing hagiography” to “more in sorrow than in anger” to “Trump is now a globalist cuck shill for the ZOG” faster than Andrew Breitbart can rotate in his grave.
Another reason firing Bannon is fraught with risk: Bannon is running the Russia pushback operation from inside the White House. He’s up to his ample ass in the Nunes shenanigan with NSC staffer Ezra Cohen-Watnik and White House Counsel’s Office staffer Mike Ellis. Bannon doesn’t just want to protect Trump over the Russia allegations; he wants to protect Russia, a nation he sees as an essential ally in his new alliance of white Christian nations against the Muslim horde. Does Trump really want Bannon, angry and in the wind, declaring his own jihad?
What about Jared Kushner, the new golden child of the Celebrity White House?
Elevating his son-in-law to Ambassador Plenipotentiary for Everything and Czar of All U.S. Government Programs is already straining credulity. Other than an accident of marriage and birth, Kushner isn’t regarded as particularly shining intellect, a masterful leader, or a man of any particularly notable ideological standards. He’s the son of a New York billionaire married to Trump’s daughter, and that’s really about all he brings to the table.
Teacher’s pet types emerge in every organization. The leader will take a shine to a person of particular talent or ability, and elevate them faster than the norm. It’s one thing when that person actually has talent and ability. In that case, other team members will see it with grumbling admiration, even if they don’t like it. In Kushner’s case, accomplished, smart people who have managed more than their daddy’s real-estate company will look at him as being elevated on the basis of his marriage, not his ability.
Kushner already has so many titles, assignments, and projects that it would be impossible for even an experienced manager and leader with a staff of hundreds to manage them. He’s never managed projects even close to the scale of what Trump has ladled onto his plate, and it’s going to show. The death will be from a thousand tiny cuts, but politically fatal in the end. In addition, Trump requires Kushner’s presence so frequently that I’m surprised Jared doesn’t have a cot outside Donald’s bedroom door.
Despite all that, Kushner is a rising force in the White House, and that’s a problem for two reasons. First, he’s also no conservative, as he and Ivanka frequently leak to friendly media. They’re New Yorkers in both social political temperament, meaning quite far to the left on social issues not only by GOP standards but by the standards of most Americans. Pushing Trump to the left on social and economic policy further harms Trump’s chances in Congress, and though Trump is no conservative, will shock the rubes who were sold on him as one. A Kushner-Goldman Sachs alliance seem to be emerging in the White House. Has anyone checked Alex Jones for signs of stroke?
Replacing Reince Priebus, a process-driven, mainline conservative before he sipped the sweet, sweet Kool-Aid of Trumpism, is another option. The chief of staff may stay. The chief of staff may go. The question is, would anyone notice?
Priebus is an administrator in an administration led by a man with little interest in his ministers and none at all in being managed himself. You can see the former party chairman desperately trying to put up guardrails and establish lanes and to staff the administration with something other than ex-Breitbart “reporters.” One of his jobs was to be the Washington Whisperer for Trump, and in the wake of the Trumpcare debacle, and the fact that Trump’s entire legislative agenda is in limbo, it’s plain that whatever he’s whispering isn’t penetrating.
What about some of the other ideas in play? Might a D.C. Wise Man/Usual Suspect of the old school right this ship? This too is a path where Trump can’t win.
First, it’s an instant way to alienate his base of fervent “burn down da gubbmint and let Trump be King” morons. A swamp veteran is going to smooth down the edges, take away Trump’s tweeting phone, cut deals with Congress, and fire the embarrassing mouth-breathers like Scavino, Gorka, and their like. He’ll work deals, manage expectations, and close the Oval Office to the random calls and visits that send President ADHD’s agenda bouncing wildly as an ideological Pachinko machine.
Some of the people mentioned are smart, competent folks with decades of experience in the folkways and traditions of D.C. Some know how to manage large, complex operations. Here’s the problem; no White House chief of staff can change Trump’s essential character. No White House chief of staff can set up a chain of reporting and accountability for a man who is driven almost entirely by the need to draw every particle of praise and adoration into the event horizon of the black hole of his boundless, hungry ego.
A strong, effective chief of staff would be of enormous benefit to this president, but so would avoiding Kentucky Fried Chicken, early morning tweet frenzies, and 20 hours of Fox News every day.
The last scenario that will also cause an explosion in the Trump base is if the president who blasted Goldman Sachs relentlessly allows the Vampire Squid’s friendly takeover of the Oval Office to come to fruition. With Gary Cohn as a widely discussed replacement for Priebus, and with a host of Goldman alumni staffing senior positions, Trump will have a circle of advisers who are more liberal, more (ahem) globalist, more comfortable with regulation and crony capitalism, and who believe that what’s Good for Goldman Is Good for America. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how this will play with Trump’s lower-middle class base of the economically fragile, to say nothing of the conspiracy media.
You’ll note I’ve left off hapless non-factor Kellyanne Conway from this piece. She’s already in Siberia, chewing shoe leather to survive the political winter, and it’s unlikely she can make it back into Trump’s good graces after becoming a national laughingstock with her relentlessly post-fact spin. She’s five minutes away from a well-paid sinecure as a Fox News contributor.
As long as Trump is president, there will never be a pivot. There is no better version of Trump, simply waiting for the right org chart or the right staffer.
I’m always struck with how a simple phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson captures politics over time, and how it captures the Trump administration perfectly.
That phrase? “An institution is the lengthened shadow of a man.”
The shambolic adhocracy of his White House is a perfect reflection of Trump’s own chaotic, disordered thought process and lack of mental discipline, and that’s not changing any time soon.