As the inevitable 100 Days coverage builds to its crescendo, here’s the score:
Trump’s populist base and advisers are getting their asses kicked by the effete Washington insiders, swamp dwellers, and Team Goldman so thoroughly it’s surprising they can even sit. But while their corporate takeover of the executive branch plays well in D.C., it comes at the expense of the dreams not only of Trump’s populist, nationalist base but of those in the broader conservative movement.
On one side, Steve Bannon’s “populist” wing advocates for a culture-war government of signifiers and winks to their alt-reich, alt-light, and alt-facts cohorts. Their Cartmanesque race warrrrrr tough talk on Muslim bans, border walls, trade wars, and lock-’em-up-and-hang-’em-high law enforcement complete with a Reefer Madness revival all come down to a not-so-subtle message: “Trump will take care of the scary brown people for you.” American carnage is an old song, even if it’s in a slightly different key this time, with a whole lot of dog-whistle mixed in.
Bannon and Team Pepe ran into a hard wall of political and cultural reality; most of what they want Trump to do is box-office poison to anyone except his most febrile supporters, and would take more organization and effort than fevered blog writers know how to put in. The TV character of Trump the executive was never a reality, and it took official Washington little time to realize it; the Bannonites made it worse with sloppy execution, terrible messaging, legislative wrong-footedness, and a stubborn belief that their beloved bullshit tornado was a substitute for governance. Drinking their own bathwater by only playing in the media of their own creation left them shocked when their cunning plans were rightly portrayed as a dumpster explosion on top of Burning Tire Mountain.
At this point, Pepe has a sad. Aside from Jeff Sessions at Justice, the alt-reich sleeper cell in the White House has been marginalized and diminished almost beyond recognition. Steve Bannon has largely been reduced to “bring out the Gimp” moments when Trump wants to throw some boob-bait to his base. Even milquetoast Reince Priebus is rocking a higher ranking on Trump’s power scale than Low-T Steve.
Trump faced a choice; he could have Mnuchin, Cohn, Mattis, McMaster, and the grownups in the room, or he could have eminence gross Steve Bannon and his band of misfit toys. It’s not without risk of Bannon snapping, but after having his head caved in on issue after issue, Trump has decided Team Goldman and the Swamp dwellers are more to his liking. The rise of Jared and Ivanka (no, I will not use that portmanteau to describe them, ever) is another triumph for the Goldman Branch of the Trump government; lavishly raised in the bluest-of-blue Manhattan bubble, they’re as far away from the average Trump voter as Stephen Hawking is from a slime mold.
As for Trump’s base, if they can briefly rouse themselves from their Fox-n-OxyContin stupor, they’d realize they were conned by the populist scam and that the White House today is run by people more than willing to leverage every tool in the D.C. toolbox to enrich the Wall Street mothership. I’m a ferocious advocate of free markets and an avowed enemy of the crony capitalism, special favors, tax advantages, legislative trickery, regulatory shenanigans, and the rest of the playbook that compromised the GOP in the last decade. Every single thing Republicans hated with the fire of a million suns during the George W. Bush compassionate conservative era and the Obama years is hardwired into the plutocrats in charge of the White House now.
The Goldman Government isn’t about free markets and economic liberty; it’s about narrow advantages for selected investment houses. You can see the ripples of this in the tax plan, the infrastructure bill, the raft of executive orders, the staffing of the administration, and emerging policy choices that look a lot like corporate cronyism, not movement conservatism.
The losers in this fight? Trump’s base.
They get nothing.
No Chinese currency manipulation declaration.
No Obamacare repeal.
No end to NAFTA.
No trade wars.
The next thing you know, Trump won’t deliver on his promises of a zillion coal miners heading down-pit on the daily.
What they do get is everything they claimed to hate about the other candidates in the primary, and Washington Republicans in general. Higher spending. Bigger government. More debt and deficits. Wall Street over Main Street. Plutocrats over populists. If they understood cognitive dissonance, they’d feel its sting right about now.
As for the “conservative” anti-anti-Trump media space, their argument of, “Well, he’s not great but we’re getting all this great conservative stuff” is starting to feel a little thin, isn’t it?
A trillion dollar stimulus plan? Team Goldman loves it since it’s not even project-driven, but largely a set of tax giveaways to favored sectors and companies. Obamacare repeal with a poison pill that is bound to include features that will piss off red-state voters just in time for 2018 and still give insurance and pharma a sweet, sweet payday? Check!
The Trump tax plan? Lord knows I’m all for lowering rates and simplifying the tax code. The intention of the plan is a GOP dream, but it already looks DOA in the Senate, the lobbying community is gearing up for a 21st Century Showdown at Gucci Gulch, and a single page of bullet points to paper over a deficit hole that goes a trillion or two deep isn’t terribly serious. As one economist said to me yesterday, “The scoring on that plan better be really, really dynamic.”
So 100 days in, the plutocrats are spanking the racists as Trump has chosen a domestic leadership team utterly at odds with his base. But that means Team Goldman needs to produce, or get spanked themselves—don’t count Bannon and his barely-disguised alt-reich ideology out just yet.