Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2017-09-01 15:05:00 -

Charlottesville, Virginia: what can I say that hasn’t already been said? All I can do is offer some insights that might help you better understand why US President Donald Trump continues to make outrageous statements that create turmoil both inside and outside the White House.


First and foremost, one must view all of President Trump’s actions, statements and tweets over the past seven months through the lens of a populist president who is running for re-election and has been ever since 20 January 2017, the day he was inaugurated. As I noted in my 1 March column: “Every move he makes, every executive order he issues, every attack on the media, is calculated to appeal to his base of rural, less educated and older white voters.”


The president’s ambiguous statement that there was blame on “many sides” in Charlottesville was a typical Stephen Bannon ‘What about them?’ response, designed to muddy the waters for President Trump’s base about who was really to blame. Two days later, under pressure from his own staff and other Republicans, President Trump publicly condemned the Neo-Nazis involved. But the President reversed course the next day, once again claiming there was “blame on both sides”, and going on to accuse the counter-protestors who confronted the Neo-Nazis of being “very, very violent”.


Then, utilising a classic Bannon tactic, President Trump pivoted away from his defence of the alt-right protesters to a defence of the reasons why they were protesting. President Trump claimed many of them were defending their culture and history by protesting the removal of Confederate statues. “I wonder,” he said, “is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”


Bannon knows that trying to defend President Trump’s arguments for the moral equivalency of Neo-Nazis and anti-fascist protesters trying to defend themselves is a losing proposition. On the other hand, both Bannon and President Trump are also aware that supporting the preservation of Confederate memorials is a winning scheme, because there is much more support from the public and other Republicans for preserving Civil War monuments. 


So does Bannon’s sudden departure from The White House mean President Trump is going to change his tone or attitude about racial bias issues?


I seriously doubt it. That’s because even though Bannon is no longer a resident of the West Wing, he is and will continue to be President Trump’s chief campaign strategist. As such, you can be sure that Trump will continue to reach out to him whenever he confronts an issue that might impact his base. Remember that when Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August 2016, he was the architect of the nationalist anti-immigrant, anti-free trade political strategy that got his man elected. Even though I think appealing only to one’s base is a faulty strategy, since President Trump is already running for re-election, why would he stop following Bannon’s political advice now?


Make no mistake: I view Bannon’s departure from The White House as a positive from the standpoint of governing our country. The right-wing House Freedom Caucus viewed Bannon as its number-one ally in the Trump Administration because he supported their rebellion against House Speaker Paul Ryan on his initial bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Freedom Caucus was also ideologically aligned with Bannon on issues like immigration and tax reform. But the group’s refusal to compromise with more moderate Republicans is also one of the major reasons why Congress can’t pass any laws.


Back in April, I wrote of my view that Bannon and his supporters’ power and influence within the White House had already peaked. When I wrote that, I was referring to Bannon and his allies’ potential influence over foreign and domestic policy. Since that date, national security advisor HR McMaster has removed four Bannon allies from President Trump’s national security team: deputy national security advisor KT McFarland, Middle East advisor Derek Harvey, Rich Higgins as director of the National Security Council’s strategic planning, and Ezra Cohen-Watnick as the head of the NSC’s intelligence programmes. If McMaster succeeds in replacing Sebastian Gorka as President Trump’s deputy assistant for terrorism, then his victory will be complete.


But Bannon’s days in the White House didn’t become numbered until after his ally Reince Priebus resigned as Chief of Staff and was replaced by retired Marine General John Kelly. The latter held Bannon responsible for some of the White House leaks that made it look as if he was winning most of the policy wars against his opponents like Gary Cohen and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kelly was also very unhappy with Bannon’s proposal to hire contractors to replace the American troops that are currently training Afghanistan’s armed forces.


As I noted here before, I agree with Karl Rove that if President Trump wants to win re-election, he needs to stop following Bannon’s strategy of basing your political decisions on what is most appealing to your base. However, if Democrats want to win in 2018, they need to avoid campaigning against Republicans on racial bias issues and focus instead on broader concerns like income inequality.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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