Friday, 28 July 2017
Who now is the hand of the king?
The infighting within Trump’s White House reached a crescendo this week, with the addition to the menagerie of mini-me-Trump Anthony Scaramucci and the subsequent and connected ousting of the buffoonish Sean Spicer and stalwart Republican insider Reince Priebus.
Scaramucci’s late night tirade against Priebus and Steve Bannon (who he somewhat oddly characterized as a self-fellating publicity-hound), seems to have cemented his place of favour in Trump’s court. Unlike previous holders of the Communication Director’s position, Scaramucci reports directly to Trump rather than to the Chief of Staff. This fact was, ostensibly, what pushed Spicer to resign, although the writing had been on the wall for both Spicer and Priebus for some time. With Priebus also now out, the last of the Republican establishment figures are gone from the White House. Trump’s inner circle more than ever now resembles some fantasy-medieval court, full of members of his own family (of varying abilities and duplicities), feudal sycophants like Scaramucci, devious schemers/counsellors like Bannon and Miller, and steadfast military leaders, all vying for King Trump’s favour.
Priebus’ replacement as Chief of Staff is General John Kelly, formerly Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security. Trump clearly has a thing for generals (or at least their uniforms): Kelly was the third he named to a senior position – the others being Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (who Trump reportedly asked to wear his uniform to work despite the fact Flynn had retired from service). After Flynn was forced to resign, Trump replaced him with yet another general, H.R. McMaster, who, still being in the military, can please his master by wearing his uniform around the office.
Given draft-dodging Trump’s love of men in uniform, it also seems likely he’ll appoint another general to take over Homeland Security, and perhaps even take the top spot at the State Department, given how reportedly unhappy Rex Tillerson is in that role, undermined as he is by Trump’s family members like Jared Kushner.
But despite Trump’s professions of admiration for his generals he doesn’t seem to care much about what they say to him. Trump ignored Mattis’ plan for fighting ISIS for months and is widely known to be frustrated with McMaster. He also decided to ban transgender people from the military without consultation with his generals. Even Mattis was apparently only informed of this ban the day before and was on vacation at the time. And the currently most senior general, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford says he’s not going to implement the ban until he receives an official order.
Given this track record, Kelly perhaps should be wary of thinking that Trump will follow his advice: more often than listening, Trump merely uses “his generals” as props. This also suggests that Kelly will not be wielding much power in his new role as Chief of Staff.
Apparently Kelly does get along well with Steve Bannon, so perhaps Bannon’s star is resurgent again? Possibly: but Bannon doesn’t seem to have had much influence on Trump’s twitter campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Bannon (and protégé Stephen Miller) are closest to in terms of ideology.
Rather, the chaos in the White House seems destined to continue, with Trump allowing rivalries amongst his underlings to fester and flare. Indeed, it seems likely that mini-me Scaramucci will be the chief rival of Bannon and his allies. Due to his special position within the administration, Scaramucci may well become the second most powerful man in the administration, gleefully tramping all over norms and institutions in a way that has eluded Bannon. That’s because Bannon and his allies have an ideological agenda that they are trying to implement. The Mooch, by contrast, is perfectly happy being a thug for hire, doing whatever bidding the equally non-ideological Trump asks of him and doing it with the relish of a New York douchebag. His only limitation is not eclipsing his boss in terms of publicity – the one thing Trump clearly will not tolerate.