The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Clash Between Trump and Bannon Was Inevitable.

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Trump vs. Bannon!

The tumultuous, theatrical, bitter split between President Trump and former top advisor Steve Bannon was inevitable.

I hope you don’t have any toxic personalities in your life; if you do, I hope you can separate yourself from them soon and with minimal pain and aggravation. There are certain people in life who are miserable and can only find pleasure in making other people miserable. Roughly ninety percent of these people’s difficult behavior is completely unnecessary, but they’ve convinced themselves that their snarling is toughness, that their petty grievances are about an all-important code of respect, that their bluster genuinely impresses others, and that their narcissism is because they are doing or are destined to do great things. Their lies are a tool for leverage, their explosive temper a weapon, their refusal to treat others with respect a sign of their “authenticity.”

You may or may not think this description applies to the president of the United States. I don’t think there’s much dispute that this applies to Steve Bannon, who has managed to alienate just about every potential ally along the way in his career in politics. (The exodus of talent from Breitbart.com during Bannon’s tenure should have been a clear red flag.) Every previous White House has had top staffers with different views and priorities, and rivalries and tensions aren’t that uncommon. But only the Trump White House turned into Washington’s Game of Thrones, where so many of the top staff entered their jobs seeing each other as enemies to be eliminated instead of teammates, and only Bannon had Breitbart.com trashing other members of the president’s staff like Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster. (Do you notice there is less leaking and anonymously-sourced slams of top advisors since John Kelly took over as chief of staff and Bannon left?)

Bannon has one setting, “war,” and he launches it against everyone who isn’t signing his paycheck. He’s incapable of working with anyone who is anything more than a lackey. In his first big test of Congressional negotiations, Bannon met with the leaders of the House Freedom Caucus and declared, “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Except, they did have a choice, and exercised that choice on the first version of the legislation. Perhaps at Breitbart.com, Bannon got used to negotiating with people he could fire.

Not everyone you disagree with has to be an enemy; Bannon made them enemies. Back in October, he announced intentions to recruit and finance primary challengers against all incumbent Republican senators, even the ones who are voting with the president’s position more than 90 percent of the time. (Despite Bannon’s perception of himself as a fighter, he won’t stand up for his own people when it might mean friction with his preferred candidate or campaign.)

The “war”/I-am-the-toughest-guy-here mentality means Bannon rarely even thinks to attempt to recruit allies or get buy-in on his ideas. Bannon and Stephen Miller wrote up and had the president sign the so-called “Muslim ban” without coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, or any other government agency that needed to actually enforce it. This led to chaos at the airports and the first version got drop-kicked by the courts within two days. Subsequent, more carefully-written versions survived scrutiny from the courts, indicating that a version of this policy could have been Constitutionally-sound if Bannon and those around him had written it with a wiser eye towards the legal challenges it would face.

In part because of this relentless toxicity, Bannon never actually got much done in his short tenure in the White House. He was removed from the National Security Council in April. The White House is still fighting to get money for border wall construction. Bannon’s idea for a tax hike on the highest earners never went anywhere, and his other big idea on taxes, a Border Adjustment Tax on imports, was rejected by Congressional Republicans — and that was an idea that Paul Ryan liked!

He undermined the president by declaring there is no military option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Bannon was apparently the one who urged President Trump to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, and of course, he pushed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate primary.

In this light, it is not surprising that Bannon would eventually lash out at the president for being yet another person who disappointed him, another person who failed to recognize and appreciate his genius, another person who wasn’t enough of a fighter and who didn’t have the guts to fight the “war.” It’s not surprising that Bannon would trash Trump’s family. Because Steve Bannon’s disappointments and problems can never be his own fault; they can never be a consequence for the way he treats people and the methods he uses to achieve his goals…

Very few of us will ever get the opportunity to shape a presidency and the country’s laws like Steve Bannon had in January 2017. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone else will fumble away that opportunity the way he did.

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