The Problem With The Trump White House is Donald Trump, Not Steve Bannon

The problem with the Trump White House is the man who sits behind the Resolute Desk.

Donald Trump Shrug

Justin Sink at Bloomberg pushes back against the idea that Stephen Bannon’s departure is likely to lead to a calmer, less chaotic, White House:

In any other White House, Bannon’s departure as chief strategist on Friday would serve as a reset for the administration following a disastrous week dominated by the president’s combative insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It’s the boldest stroke in Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempt to impose order on a White House divided into warring camps. And it would appear to give a boost to those within the White House who opposed Bannon’s hard-line anti-trade instincts, military isolationism, and hostility to the federal bureaucracy.

Trump commented on Bannon’s departure for the first time in a tweet early Saturday: “I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton – it was great! Thanks S.”

But Bannon, 63, will now take his battle to the outside — where the president and his advisers will have no control over his message. Bannon has ample access to funding through his close relationships with conservative billionaire Bob Mercer and other major Republican donors.

Kurt Bardella, a Republican communications specialist who worked for Bannon at Breitbart but later denounced him, predicted the strategist would “feel liberated” by his departure.

“Now, he will be able to operate openly and freely to inflict as much damage as he possibly can on the ‘globalists’ that remain in the Trump Administration,” Bardella said.

Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg shortly after his departure, Bannon vowed to do just that.

“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” said Bannon, who returned to the job he left to join Trump’s campaign, executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News.

The same crisis that accelerated Bannon’s ouster also underscores why the reset is unlikely to be more than symbolic: the man at the top.

To his own detriment, the president resisted an unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists violence in Charlottesville a week ago, a position cheered on by Bannon.

The episode was an authentic representation of Trump. The president has made clear he’s naturally inclined to stake out politically incorrect positions and serially unwilling to apologize for missteps. His electoral victory despite a string of controversies that would have felled nearly any other politician has left Trump, 71, with the impression he’s unlikely to pay any political cost for stoking outrage.

He’s been unable, though, to replicate his surprise electoral success in Washington, where the lawmakers and establishment interests he enjoys alienating control important levers of power. There’s little about Bannon’s departure that will help pass an Obamacare repeal, a tax overhaul, or a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

The strategist’s exit won’t repair relationships frayed by caustic attacks, a reflex on display again this week as Trump launched public tirades against corporate chief executives and Republican senators who dared to criticize him. Nor will Bannon’s departure convince lawmakers to support the agenda of a president with historically low poll ratings.

This is another way of addressing the same point I made in a comment to James Joyner’s post on Bannon’s departure and the question of whether or not it represents the beginning of the marginalization of the far-right inside the White House. As I noted in that comment, Bannon leaving the White House does not change the fact that Donald Trump is still President, and it is Trump that is largely responsible for what we’ve seen unfold over the past 211 days. Donald Trump is the one who has consistently said outrageous things in public appearances and Tweets that through his Administration off track, for example. And it’s clear that Trump’s initial response to the Charlottesville violence last weekend and his comments on Tuesday represent what he truly believes about what happened rather than the more measured response he read from prepared remarks during his brief return to the White House on Monday.

Additionally, the idea that it was  Bannon who was largely responsible for Trump’s tilt to the far-right on issues ranging from immigration to trade to cultural issues can be demonstrated to be false simply by looking at the history of Trump’s campaign for the White House. Trump launched his campaign in June 2015 with a blatant appeal to anti-immigration sentiment, for example, when he used the occasion of that first campaign speech to blast Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and it just went downhill from there. By December, he was calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, a policy proposal that was among the first things he did upon entering office, albeit in a somewhat revised format. Steve Bannon didn’t join the Trump campaign until a year ago this weekend, and by then Trump had already done other things such as attacking a Gold Star Family that spoke at the Democratic National Convention and attacking the Judge handling the cases against Trump University by alleging that his Mexican-American heritage biased him against Trump somehow. Bannon may have shared many of the same attitudes as Trump, and emphasized them during his time at Breitbart News, but he didn’t plant those ideas in the President’s head. Bannon also can’t be held to be responsible for Trump’s tone, attitude, and behavior as President since all of these are utterly consistent with the way the man has acted in public since the time he first became a public figure back in the 1980s.

The problems that plague the Trump Administration are, at their core, solely attributable to Trump himself. He’s unlikely to change, and if his history both before and after he entered politics have shown us anything it is that nobody can “handle” Donald Trump or tell him what to do or how to act. His family can’t do it, his friends can’t do it, and it’s unlikely that a group of advisers that are mostly new to him will be able to do it. For that reason, there’s no reason to believe that anything is going to change inside the White House itself. This likely means more out of control tweets, more off the cuff remarks from a clearly unhinged President, and more chaos in the White House that prevents anyone who actually wants to accomplish anything from doing so. The man at the top is the problem, and that’s not going to change until January 20, 2021 at the earliest.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Doug, a serious question: Do you think John Kelly will last in his current position? He must know that trying to clean up the White House and make it minimally functional is a task akin to trying to clean out the Augean stables with a whisk broom and dust pan.

    There is no one who can stop Trump from tweeting 3 a.m. idiocies (I suspect Melania either has no influence over her husband or simply doesn’t care what he does; probably both) or going off-script the way he did Tuesday. Kelly can’t sit all night with him in the bedroom and grab the phone away from him when he gets the urge to tweet. And Kelly can’t force him to stick to a prepared text.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: I suspect that Kelly has his hands full trying to keep actual policy on some sort of even keel. I doubt he’s even trying to control Trump’s words.

  3. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    But the fact that an unhinged Trump is rampaging around making statements that sabotage any policy initiatives would seem to render any attempt to keep policy on an even keel moot, wouldn’t it?

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Until Trump stops tweeting and learns to stick to the TelePrompter – which will never happen – it will not be possible to form a policy with any confidence. He doesn’t know what a policy is. If he did know, it wouldn’t stop him tweeting the exact opposite if Fox and Friends takes a different stand.

    Try to guess Trump’s position on lifting the debt ceiling. Can’t do it, can you? His policy on healthcare went from “cheap everything for everyone,” to, “hurry up and throw 22 million people off their insurance.” His foreign policy went from, ‘come home, America,’ to, ‘let’s nuke North Korea and Iran if they say anything mean to me.”

    Trump does not do policy. He has no real beliefs. He has no ideas. And if he did know what a policy was, and even agreed to it, there is no question he’d sink it without a second thought if someone annoyed him or handed him a fun listicle. He doesn’t even ‘spin’ because spin requires a goal, a concept, and Trump is incapable of sticking to any goal but money and praise.

    I still don’t think people have quite come to grips with the reality here. Trump has one thought: Me. Everything else is a subset of that. He has zero interest in the United States, in our culture, our history, our position in the world. He is a psychopath, a bundle of predatory instincts and greed. There is no deeper layer. There is no grand design. It’s just me, me, me, me, me. It will never be anything else.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s a convenient way to think about Trump. Normal people have something they would sacrifice for, something they might even die for – cause, an ideal, a nation. Trump has only Trump.

    Aliens come to earth and say, “Look, we find the TV reruns you’ve been firing off into space really annoying. So we are going to inflict punishment on you which you will be utterly powerless to resist. But we’ll give you a choice: we can kill a million randomly-picked Americans, or we can kill the American president.”

    100% chance that Obama would sacrifice himself.
    0% chance of Trump doing it.

    Make it 50 million people. Same answers. Make it a billion. Make it the entire human population with the exception of Trump and Ivanka. Same answers. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – Trump would risk his own life for aside from his bank account.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    People are making an error here. THey assume that Bannon leaving the White House means he will no longer bet advising Trump. Why should we think that?

  7. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t think anyone assumes that, given that Bannon has proclaimed that he’ll be engaging in a war for Trump. A more relevant question will be how this will manifest itself. Trump was very angry that Bannon was given credit for Trump’s election.

    Bannon is in this for Bannon. He wants to start his own new network as a challenge to “liberal” Fox News. I also think that Bannon wants to avenge himself against Ivanka, Jared, and McMaster. Trump himself, for Bannon, is a side issue in this.

    Bottom line is that Bannon is quite well aware of how stupid and inept Trump is. He also knows he can jerk Trump’s strings from a distance, when needful

  8. James Joyner says:

    I think this is likely right. My hope is just that Kelly being able to push some of the worst folks out could help at the margins. I don’t think anything approaching a normal preside cy is likely.

  9. Scott O says:

    Trump is a symptom, not the problem. What the Republican party has become is the problem.

  10. Gustopher says:

    If Trump had a heart attack and died tomorrow, I’m not sure that President Pence would be able to reign things in. There would be less day to day drama, but not much other change.

    Trump is a symptom of a political party with no core values other than “look tough” and “piss off liberals”. The problem is the Republican Party and the Republican voters. There is a large chunk of them that support Trump. Some are nazis who just want to hurt minorities, and some are nihilists that just want to burn everything down.

    For the record, I hope Trump does not have a heart attack. I want him to live a long and bitter life, recognizing that his presidency was a failure. And then he can get pancreatic cancer or something painful. No… Lou Gherig’s disease — slowly locked into a prison of his own body.

  11. DrDaveT says:

    Trump is a symptom of a political party with no core values other than “look tough” and “piss off liberals”. The problem is the Republican Party and the Republican voters.

    Agreed on the second, but you’ve fingered the wrong group on the first. The Republican Party core values are making life better for the already wealthy and punishing the poor, and (of course) staying in power. Republican voters’ core values differ by faction, but include
    — Creating a fundamentalist Protestant theocracy
    — Keeping brown people in their place and Making America White Again
    — Owning and carrying lots of guns
    — Doing anything that angers or horrifies Libruls

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher:

    If Trump had a heart attack and died tomorrow, I’m not sure that President Pence would be able to reign things in. There would be less day to day drama, but not much other change.

    Another thing is that everyone seems to assume Pence would be competent. He’s certainly more sane and has a lot more elected experience. But we need to keep in mind how far the bar has been lowered since Trump’s rise. As I’ve said before, “saner and more competent than Trump” is sort of like “a better singer than William Hung.”

    Remember, Dubya was a relatively conventional Republican, one with deep institutional ties to the GOP and strong support from both evangelicals and the business wing of the party, and who was surrounded by people with loads of Washington experience. And he was the worst president in modern history.

    Compared to Trump, Pence may be a bit less inclined to play chicken with Kim Jong Un. But that doesn’t mean he won’t seriously muck things up. He would have to preside over a party that was dysfunctional before Trump came along, and whose dysfunction was more or less responsible for the rise of Trump. Eliminate the Monster, and you still have Dr. Frankenstein.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    The potential difference that I see with Pence is that it is possible that he would be able to rally the troops in Congress in ways that Trump has been unable to. We end up with all the hate, drama, bigotry and such with the added bonus of being able to fork up the ACA, accomplish the shift in the tax burden to the middle class or deficit spending, repeal 40 or so years of regulations, poison the atmosphere and the water table, pass “no one who isn’t white can come here anymore” immigration reform; you know all the good stuff.

  14. Scott F. says:

    @Kylopod:

    As someone who is familiar with Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana, expecting competency from him is extremely naïve.

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    @MarkedMan: Because Bannon doesn’t actually like Trump and is fundamentally opposed to the agendas of the people surrounding the President. Bannon has his own agenda and fully understands Trump is incapable of advancing it.

  16. Guarneri says:

    “This likely means more out of control tweets, more off the cuff remarks from a clearly unhinged President,”

    Well, with due acknowledgement of your own psychiatric expertise…..we all do long for the days when Susan Rice could be trotted out to dutifully discuss the anger management aspects of YouTube videos after a President and Secy of a State had created an Ambo killing terrorist state. Good times. Good, competent, times.

    “and more chaos in the White House that prevents anyone who actually wants to accomplish anything from doing so. ”

    Well, since he can do no right you should be happy. But based upon a couple months now, it seems that just constant whining is the real goal.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    The administration’s problem wasn’t Bannon, it’s Trump. The country’s problem isn’t Trump, it’s Republicans.

    If Trump resigns, we’ll have less chance of stumbling into war, less chance of some other huge foreign policy blunder, less chance of completely botching a response to some emergency, and maybe we’ll lose this weird affection for Russians and Nazis. But then we get Pence and we have a better chance of screwing up healthcare, a better chance we’ll get tax “reform” that cuts taxes for the wealthy and blows up the deficit, the Freedom (sic) Caucus will still be trying to default, and we’ll more effectively prioritize the Koch Bros. profits over AGW.

  18. rachel says:

    @Guarneri:

    But based upon a couple months now, it seems that just constant whining is the real goal.

    It’s been more than three times “a couple months”, and Boss Tweet has not gone beyond than that. I begin to despair that he will never bring himself to acknowledge that Hillary lost, he won, and that he needs to man up and do his job. I’m getting tired of all his whining.

  19. teve tory says:

    The potential difference that I see with Pence is that it is possible that he would be able to rally the troops in Congress in ways that Trump has been unable to. We end up with all the hate, drama, bigotry and such with the added bonus of being able to fork up the ACA, accomplish the shift in the tax burden to the middle class or deficit spending, repeal 40 or so years of regulations, poison the atmosphere and the water table, pass “no one who isn’t white can come here anymore” immigration reform; you know all the good stuff.

    Remember what Norquist said, All they need is a prez who has enough working digits to sign their bills. But they need a prez who won’t crap on congress, in order to help push their bills too.

    I agree that Pence would make it much easier to do their shitty business. I want trump to bluster and babble his way through the next 3.5 years, attacking his allies whenever he feels slighted.

    As an aside: the ACA failure, though, wasn’t so much on trump as that the policy was based on the idiotic lie that Obamacare was all horrible for everybody. If that lie were true, repealing it would be a no-brainer: everything would get better and republicans would get the credit. The truth is that Obamacare was a big help, in some cases a life-saver, to millions of people.

  20. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Things could get very interesting if someone reminds Trump that he started his upward trajectory in the primaries when he was attacking both Republicans and Democrats for ruining the country. If he remembers in time for the congressional primaries leading up to the midterms next year, then Republicans will get well and truly roasted. Democrats will vote for whatever Trump is against, Trumpkins will howl in rage against Republicans and “normal” will be that place in the rearview mirror that is getting further and further away.

    A republic, if you can keep it.

  21. teve tory says:

    “I do whine because I want to win and I’m not happy about not winning and I am a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win,” Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday.

    Trump calls himself “the most fabulous whiner”

  22. teve tory says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Things could get very interesting if someone reminds Trump that he started his upward trajectory in the primaries when he was attacking both Republicans and Democrats for ruining the country. If he remembers in time for the congressional primaries leading up to the midterms next year, then Republicans will get well and truly roasted.

    Bannon pretty much specifically said he was going back to Breitbart to go to “war” with globalists and trump’s congressional enemies. It should be a total fustercluck.

  23. CSK says:

    Very OT, but Dick Gregory has died.

  24. Mr. Prosser says:

    @CSK: The first time I was eligible to vote I voted for Gregory absentee from Viet Nam.

    @gVOR08: Let’s hope Trump remains in office, I think Pence and his dominionist ideas allied with Sessions retrograde justice and Pruitt’s willful destruction of the environment will truly ruin this nation.

  25. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Trump promoted Breitbart on Twitter this morning as “real news” to give the “fake news” competition.

    Is Trump aware that Bannon has specifically promised to go after “the West Wing Democrats,” i.e., Ivanka, Jared, Cohn, Powell, and McMaster?

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Guarneri:
    You’ve gone from swaggering triumphalism to whining self-pity. It’s good to see. Time to get to work on your final narrative which will go like this: Trump was too good for this world, the evil liberals had to destroy him. Boo hoo. Something something Muslims, something something Black Lives Matter, and of course, what about Hillary’s email server? The orderlies at the home are going to want to hear that over and over again.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting analysis of what might be going on.

    As I suggested right after Trump was elected, let’s just give the guy a Napoleon Emperor outfit with a long, long cape covered with fake gold braid and fake ermine, a whole bunch of mirrors, gently usher him into the room and just lock the door and sneak away. Heck, we can create some fake CNN videos talking about How Wonderful Trump Is and he’ll be happy as a clam.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    Interesting analysis of what might be going on.

    Jesus, that’s pathetic…is this who most people want in the White House? A preening, narcissistic Baron Munchausen-clone…