The fire, the fury, the sideshow

  • 8 January 2018
  • NormanL

Official Washington, and many places beyond, are enthralled by Michael Wolff's new book, "Fire and Fury." Our copy of the book arrives in a day or so.

But elsewhere, the reactions have been piling up higher than the snow outside our office. For those who've always loathed the President, the book is a godsend, confirming their darkest fears and providing them with fresh ammunition to undermine his presidency. Those who support the President charge the book is a hash of fables, lies, and fantasies.

As we sifted through the reactions over the weekend, we came across this item in our favorite muckraking site, Washington Babylon. It offers three interpretations of what's going on with the book, and the open warfare between the White House, and its former political advisor, and Breitbart News chairman, Steve Bannon. Here's a snippet:

Source 1 is a Trump supporter from the Drain the Swamp faction, and a former senior intelligence officer who has good ties to Republicans in Washington. Here’s what he said:

The split between Bannon and Trump is greatly exaggerated. They operate in lockstep. This is a diversion. When they had to get rid of Reince Priebus as chief of staff, they parachuted in Anthony Scaramucci [as White House communications director] and within 10 days they both were gone. It created a media storm, but it didn’t do any lasting damage to Trump.

Trump is going to make some moves in terms of personnel and policy, probably at the State of the Union, and he needs a distraction so they don’t care that this is getting attention. Look for [General H.R.] McMaster to be removed as National Security Advisor. He was imposed on Trump, and [White House chief of staff John] Kelly doesn’t like him. Trump has political room to maneuver now with passage of the tax bill and he wants to get rid of him. There may be a change at State too.

In terms of policy, the two big issues are going to be term limits and the border. They’re going to compromise on the Dreamers; they’re not going to deport people who came here when they were kids, but they’re going to shut the door. And they’re not going to build a Berlin Wall on the border, which is the public perception, but they’re going to speed up doing it in pieces and creating zones and corridors that can be patrolled.

Bannon draws a lot of fire, he’s a lightning rod, but these guys are Machiavellian. They know to play the media.

Interesting. And a second view, from the same article:

Source 2 is Jim Jatras, another Drain the Swamper and a man whose views are always interesting. An occasional Washington Babylon contributor, Jim is a former senior foreign policy adviser to the Senate Republican leadership and is currently a Washington-based media and government relations specialist. Here’s his view:

There’s a split between Bannon and Trump, over domestic policy, not foreign policy. Bannon was for Ted Cruz before he was for Trump. He’s not exactly an anti-interventionist — he’s said war with China is inevitable, for example — but he’s upset with Trump’s domestic policies. He wanted to start with a big infrastructure program, because he knew if Trump dangled that the Democrats would come running, and then do immigration and trade.

But, instead, Trump listened to Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, and he tried to repeal Obamacare and went for the tax cut. The establishment wing of the party wanted the tax cut, and after it passed top Republicans went to the White House and were praising Trump in over-the-top language. But that’s not going to help him with his base, and people who voted for Trump after voting for Obama twice are not going to support him because hedge fund billionaires are getting a tax break for carried interest.

Inch by inch he’s becoming a conventional Republican, as if that will save him. His personality quirks will remain, but that’s about it. He’s got the same deep state types who want to bring him down running his foreign policy. The Mercers, who announced they are cutting their funding for Bannon, are total neocons.

The neocons would love to lead him down the garden path to disaster in Iran or North Korea. Who’s going to get blamed if half of South Korea is incinerated, Trump or William Kristol and David Frum? Those guys have never paid a price for their mistakes and they won’t now either.

His new Republican friends will abandon him at the first sign of trouble. If Democrats win the House in 2018, Trump is going to be impeached, and a lot of Republicans who are smiling at him now will stab him in the back. With the neocons he’s clasping an asp to his bosom by accepting their agenda. There is no upside.

This feud with Bannon hurts him, at least a little. Bannon is largely irrelevant, but Trump’s going to be hurt if he doesn’t engage with his base, which thus far has been pretty resilient. They watch Fox and ignore the inside baseball, but they won’t support him forever if he doesn’t deliver something.

Again, very interesting. The arguing does focus press attention off what the Administration does every day (be it reducing the regulatory burden or nominating more conservatives to the federal court system). Those are dull, and they don't generate much interest among readers outside a narrow audience (nevermind inside newsrooms).

But a feud? And a nasty one, at that? Fire up the printing presses and lay on emergency supplies of popcorn.

We have no idea where this leads. But it all seems part of a pattern that goes back several decades. Republican president is elected. Press does not like him, and proceeds to do everything in its power to bring said president down (or, failing that, at least tar him with the "crazy" label, and much worse, as often as possible).

Rinse, repeat...and hope the voting public tosses the guy out in the next election.

It almost always fails.