Sunday, April 09, 2017


Steve Bannon has been battling with the Trump advisers he and his crowd refer to as "the Democrats" -- Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell -- and it's clear that he's losing the battle now, but it also appears that the president doesn't want him out just yet. Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen of Axios tell us that Trump urged Bannon and Kushner to end their feud; Allen subsequently reported that Trump is planning a "centrist push" and expects Bannon to cooperate:
Steve Bannon ... is increasingly isolated and will be forced out unless he can adopt a more cooperative approach, a top source told me.

On both style and substance, Bannon got crosswise with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are pushing for a more competence- and results-driven focus for the West Wing.
It's hard to imagine Bannon getting fully on board with centrism. And yet he does seem to want to hang on, according to this NBC report:
An embattled Steve Bannon appears to be digging in against a storm of bad press suggesting he's on his way out, sources familiar with the inner workings of the White House told NBC News.

The White House chief strategist "ain't going anywhere," sources close to him said.
Politico reported on Wednesday that Rebekah Mercer, Bannon's sugar mommy, wants Bannon to think ahead:
Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer, a longtime Bannon confidante who became a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, urged Bannon not to resign....

Another person familiar with the situation, a GOP operative who talks to Mercer, said: “Bekah tried to convince him that this is a long-term play.”
Mercer is smart to think that way. Jared and Ivanka may want the White House to focus on "a more competence- and results-driven" centrism -- but if a big popularity boost is all Trump is after (and I think that's a safe assumption), "Javanka"-esque centrism isn't going to do it. It's unlikely to get Trump a deal on tax reform, for instance:
Democrats are starting to settle on a price for participating in a tax-code overhaul, and many Republicans won’t want to pay it.

Democrats say they oppose net tax cuts and will resist proposals that mostly benefit high-income households. Those priorities diverge from President Donald Trump’s repeated promise to “cut the hell out of taxes” and congressional Republicans’ plans to lower marginal tax rates and repeal the estate tax....

“If they’re going to talk about some middle-class tax relief, we certainly want to engage,” [Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee,] said. “If this is a redo of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, that’s a nonstarter...."
Democrats appear to be digging in their heels and expecting any tax overhaul to favor the non-rich. That would almost certainly be opposed by all Republicans in Congress. End result: no tax deal.

On health care, Democrats also seem to be holding firm: no repeal, no replace, and any changes to Obamacare should at least shore it up and ideally improve it, not weaken it. That would also be a non-starter among Republicans. So no health care deal, either.

Meanwhile, an interventionist foreign policy may be getting Trump good press for the moment, but do you honestly believe he's going to get results? I don't say that because Kushner appears to be running foreign policy and he's completely unqualified to do so. I say it because even the administration's wiser, more experienced foreign policy aides -- the generals Trump admires so much -- aren't going to help him score crowd-pleasing wins.

Ross Douthat, of all people, has a very smart column on this subject today. As Douthat explains, when you ask generals about a global problem, they're going to recommend military action, although they're not going to recommend anything rash because they like stability:
... in certain ways a military-directed foreign policy promises to be more stability-oriented than other approaches to international affairs. It would be less prone to grand ideological ambitions than either liberal hawkishness or neoconservatism — less inclined to imagine the U.S. as an agent of democratic revolution or a humanitarian avenging angel....

But even as it prizes stability, the military has a strong bias toward, well, military solutions whenever crises or challenges emerge. These solutions are not usually huge invasions or expensive nation-building exercises. But they treat bombs and missiles and drone strikes and (in limited, extractable numbers) boots on the ground as first-resort tools of statecraft.
The limited strike on Syria seems a perfect example of this to Douthat -- we're blowing stuff up, but not in a way intended to change the status quo. The generals, as Douthat says, aren't going to recommend Bush-in-Iraq-style regime change and nation-building.

how does Trump get a big ongoing poll boost from small interventions? And what happens if, as Douthat says, small interventions gradually lead us into a quagmire?

In sum, Trump is turning away from the Bannonites in search of surging poll numbers -- but in the long run, the Jared/Ivanka-ites and the generals aren't going to juice Trump's numbers either.

So eventually Trump is going to turn back to Bannon (if he's still around) or a Bannon-like adviser (if Bannon's gone). Ivanka and Jared may never be truly out of favor, but the other "Democrats" -- and even the generals -- might be. And Trump will turn away from the actual Democrats as well.

So Rebekah Mercer is right: Bannon should lie low and wait. If he survices, his time will come again.

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