The star of ‘Celebrity President’ is watching a lot of cable news and obsessing over the White House drapes. Meanwhile, his staff has yet to master the basics of running a room, much less a government.
Breitbart CEO-turned-strategist Steve Bannon has made the most of this power vacuum by hollowing out the bureaucracy and micromanaging executive orders into a constitutional crisis — the ‘Muslim ban.’ The New York Times describes a surreal scene:
Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.
Bannon and policy director Stephen Miller are the white nationalist duo responsible for drafting the ‘Muslim ban,’ cutting people out of the loop on its details, and pushing its implementation until things began to break.
Donald, who is not a reader, also signed another executive order on his National Security Council without realizing that his signature would put Bannon on the principal committee. Trump was upset when he found out about it from watching negative cable news reactions.
Bannon and Miller still have his trust, but Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has reportedly seized on the opportunity to check his rivals. The Times says that Preibus has moved to prevent a repetition of the embarrassing chaos and protests that followed the Muslim ban by keeping stakeholders informed and involved.
Unfortunately, the other power players in Trump’s administration still aren’t providing enough balance to Bannon’s power over the policy agenda. Their influence will continue to dominate the White House.
Opportunistic as ever, Bannon and Miller saw “a brief window in which to push through their vision of Mr. Trump’s economic nationalism” and took full advantage. Trump, on the other hand,
remains intensely focused on his brand, but the demands of the job mean he spends less time monitoring the news media — although he recently upgraded the flat-screen TV in his private dining room so he can watch the news while eating lunch.
He often has to wait until the end of the workday before grinding through news clips with Mr. Spicer, marking the ones he does not like with a big arrow in black Sharpie — though he almost always makes time to monitor Mr. Spicer’s performance at the daily briefings, summoning him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said.
When it was time to consider a dangerous operation in Yemen by US Navy SEALs, Donald Trump did not give the issue so much attention. That’s how his disastrous first military action was launched “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.”
Bannon and Miller reflect his most basic policy priorities, and their usefulness is exactly proportional to how much free time the president has to coach his press secretary and arrange the decor.
It’s going to be a long four years.
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