THE MORNING PLUM:
Now that Stephen K. Bannon has been booted from the White House, the political press is salivating at the prospect of a public struggle between Bannon as outsider and the “globalists” who remain inside the White House. Bannon now rails that his ouster means the Trump presidency as he conceived of it is “over,” and vows to use Breitbart to pressure the administration into hewing to the “economic nationalist” agenda that (he maintains) the globalists may now derail.
But looming in the near future are some major flash points that will test whether Bannon’s departure actually heralds any kind of new direction for President Trump. Here’s a partial rundown:
Arizona speech. Trump is set to hold a rally Tuesday night in Arizona. That was the setting for the festival of hate, lies and xenophobia otherwise known as his main campaign speech on immigration. Little has changed since: Trump recently embraced a plan to slash legal immigration and in the process has recently amplified more lies about the impact that low-skilled immigration has on U.S. workers and about the degree to which immigrants drain welfare benefits. If you hear more of these lies about immigration tomorrow — and in coming days — we’ll see little has changed post-Bannon.
New rhetoric about race. Meanwhile, some Republicans have urged Trump to use the Arizona rally to sound a conciliatory, unifying tone, after his refusal to unambiguously condemn white supremacy in the wake of the Charlottesville violence. But Bannon internally urged Trump not to back down on this point, arguing that he shouldn’t capitulate to pressure from the media. What Trump says tomorrow will tell us a lot.
The fate of the “dreamers.” The Trump administration faces a tough decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which currently shields around 800,000 people brought here illegally as children from deportation, while granting them permits to work. The White House won’t say whether Trump will cancel the program. If he does not, a coalition of states will sue to get it overturned, and the question then will be whether Trump will instruct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to defend the program in court.
Incredibly, the New York Times reports that Bannon had privately urged Trump not to show flexibility toward the dreamers, arguing that this would buy no goodwill for Trump from Democrats. (It’s always, always, always just about Trump, and the question of whether it is humane or just to scrap protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought here as kids, through no fault of their own, is beside the point entirely.) Trump’s decision on DACA will be revealing.
Joe Arpaio’s pardon. If Trump goes through with pardoning former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, an authoritarian racist with a fondness for dabbling in birtherism and a history of reprehensible abuses toward Latinos, that will speak for itself.
Afghanistan. Trump is reportedly set to expand our engagement in Afghanistan by several thousand troops, and the New York Times reports that Bannon’s departure tips the balance in favor of those who, unlike Bannon, favor a more interventionist military posture abroad. This is partly a reflection of Bannon’s “America first” foreign policy nationalism. But as Ben Smith notes, it’s more than that: Bannon has long dreamed of achieving a cross-racial political realignment of working people via a combination of protectionist trade policy, ramped-up spending at home, tighter immigration restrictions, and bringing home their sons and daughters from foreign wars.
Trump, too, campaigned on a similar narrative built of these same intertwined themes, vaguely suggesting he would be less inclined toward military adventurism abroad than bipartisan Washington elites tend to be. So it will be very telling if Trump departs from Bannonism in this area while retaining its hostility toward immigration. Which brings us to …
Trade, infrastructure and taxes. We have been told endlessly that the appeal of Trump/Bannon “populist economic nationalism” depends in part on Trump’s willingness to break from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s orthodox Republicanism on economic policy and the safety net. But Bannon reportedly urged Republicans to support the GOP health bill, which would have slashed Medicaid for millions, including untold numbers of Trump voters, while delivering the rich a huge tax cut. In short, Bannon went all in with Ryanism when it really counted.
Now Bannonism will be tested again. We are told Bannon wanted Trump to adopt pro-worker protectionist policies; we know he has long talked of huge infrastructure spending; and word was leaked that he pushed for tax-reform to hike taxes on the rich. But we never saw the meat of any of these, making it hard to judge what the Bannonist agenda is really supposed to amount to, beyond the stepped-up deportations, the immigration restrictionism and the thinly disguised Muslim ban, areas in which (surprise) we have seen concrete policies. At some point, we may see plans from Trump and the GOP on trade, infrastructure and tax reform. If so, you’d think the now-unshackled Bannon will be unsparing in his criticism of them where they fail working people and benefit elites, and in so doing will finally reveal what the Bannon agenda really looks like in these areas. Right?
The most likely outcome: Trump will remain fully in thrall to Bannonism’s impulses on immigration and race while failing to offer anything on trade or infrastructure that actually benefits workers — or anything that seriously challenges conventionally plutocratic GOP priorities on taxes.
* GOP COMMITTEES SPEND BIGLY AT TRUMP BUSINESSES: Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy scoop that GOP political committees are spending big time at businesses owned by Trump:
At least 25 congressional campaigns, state parties and the Republican Governors Association have together spent more than $473,000 at Trump hotels or golf resorts this year, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance filings. Trump’s companies collected an additional $793,000 from the [Republican National Committee] and the president’s campaign committee, some of which included payments for rent and legal consulting.
Now there’s an extraordinary coincidence!
* SECRET SERVICE RUNNING OUT OF CASH DUE TO TRUMP: USA Today scoops that the Secret Service can no longer afford to pay agents, due to the expense of protecting Trump’s many family members and residences:
The agency has faced a crushing workload since the height of the contentious election season, and it has not relented in the first seven months of the administration. Agents must protect Trump – who has traveled almost every weekend to his properties in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia – and his adult children whose business trips and vacations have taken them across the country and overseas.
And of course, Trump’s trips as president to his properties have the added benefit (to him) of promoting them.
* MORE POLLS FIND TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: New NBC News-Marist polls find Trump’s approval rating at 36-55 in Michigan; 35-54 in Pennsylvania; and 34-56 in Wisconsin, three states he won last year. Still, Trump does better on the economy:
In Michigan, voters by a 42-to-39 percent margin say the U.S. economy has been strengthened by Trump’s decisions as president. In Pennsylvania, it’s 45 percent to 38 percent. And in Wisconsin, it’s dead even at 41 percent each.
If Trump starts to tank on the economy, that will be a sign that the bottom may be really dropping out from under him.
* GOP SENATOR: TRUMP’S ‘MORAL AUTHORITY IS COMPROMISED’: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump’s Charlottesville response left him lacking in “moral authority,” and noted:
“It’s going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, that moral authority remains compromised. … this nation responds to moral authority, when we believe that our president has the entire nation’s best interests at heart. His comments on Tuesday that erased his positive comments on Monday started to compromise that moral authority that we need the president to have for this nation to be the beacon of light to all mankind.”
Trump not only does not have the “entire nation’s best interests at heart”; he apparently recognizes no obligation or duties to the public at all.
* BANNON URGED TRUMP NOT TO MODERATE ON CHARLOTTESVILLE: The New York Times reports that some Trump advisers, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, urged Trump to amend his statement blaming “many sides” for the violence. But Stephen K. Bannon objected:
Mr. Bannon vigorously objected. He told Mr. Kelly that if Mr. Trump delivered a second, more contrite statement it would do him no good, with either the public or the Washington press corps, which he denigrated as a “Pretorian guard” protecting the Democrats’ consensus that Mr. Trump is a race-baiting demagogue. Mr. Trump could grovel, beg for forgiveness, even get down on his knees; it would never work, Mr. Bannon maintained.
Never mind the fact that Trump actually is a race-baiting demagogue; what this confirms, again, is that it’s only about Trump, always and forever.
* GOP POLLSTER TELLS TRUMP TO KEEP ATTACKING MEDIA: Politico reports that the White House has received private advice from GOP pollster John McLaughlin, who conducted extensive research on the deteriorating environment for Trump:
In a summary of the results, according to two people who reviewed it, he advised Trump that his conservative base remained intact, but that he needed to renew the message of his campaign — that Trump was a change figure who offered a break from the disappointments of the Obama era. … And he offered some counsel that Trump didn’t need. “Keep pointing out unfair biased media,” the pollster wrote, “whenever possible.”
Keep attacking Barack Obama, and keep tweeting the words “Fake News.” That’ll do it.