Power Plays in the White House Lead to Chaos

The ousting of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council has led to a storm of reports about the power plays that are already endemic to this White House.

Josh Marshall sees it as a rise of the “normal people.”

…we do seem to be seeing a group of normal people – I use this term advisedly and in a very broad sense – trying to create a functioning administration, at least on the foreign policy front around Trump, in spite of Trump.

Mike Allen has a similar take.

Operation Normal — the steady, loud accumulation of power by Jared Kushner and his allies, at the expense of the more ideological force hardline ideologues, led by Steve Bannon — keeps winning.

Alex Isenstadt and Andrew Restuccia dive a bit deeper into the federal bureaucracy and describe a battle between Trump loyalists and the establishment. One of the former captured it with this statement: “The swamp is winning the battle.”

Jonathan Stevenson is one person who isn’t buying the conventional wisdom that the latest developments indicate a win for McMaster and a loss for Bannon. In making his case, he notes that Michael Flynn loyalist Ezra Cohen-Watnick still has his job as senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council because Kushner and Bannon teamed up to intervene when McMaster wanted him gone.

That raises the specter of yet another grouping. As the Russian probe intensifies, there are those who have loyally defended the president and those who have betrayed him. It might be important to keep in mind that Trump defines loyalty and betrayal differently.

Someone like Cohen-Watnick would be viewed as loyal for getting the dirt on the people Trump wants to vilify in  his lie, distract and blame pattern — as long as he doesn’t get caught. Once that happens, it is a betrayal (see: Michael Flynn).

What created Trump’s fury about the Sessions recusal was likely the fact that the Attorney General took the hit and didn’t fight back. In Trump’s mind, that is a betrayal. Beyond that, Sessions recusal removed the person the president was counting on to be his watchdog over the investigation to make sure it didn’t get out of hand. That is a huge betrayal. So Bannon isn’t the only one that is losing power when it comes to influencing the president. I suspect that Sessions is sharing a room with him in the dog house right now.

None of this is normal. Perhaps generating this kind of chaos worked for Trump in the business world (although I doubt it). But it is disastrous in a presidency. Stevenson goes on to describe the kind of chaos we’re seeing in the president’s foreign policy as a result of the mess we’re witnessing on the National Security Council. Here is how he describes its function:

Among the National Security Council’s key tasks is to help the president arrive at a consensus on a given foreign policy issue by soliciting the views of different agencies and orchestrating compromises in formulating a clear and integrated approach. On that basis, the council customarily provides the president with background briefings and talking points, or vets those prepared by other members of his administration. The importance of this harmonizing process rests in sending clear signals to adversaries as well as allies and partners about United States attitudes and intentions.

Is it any surprise that Trump’s foreign policy is a disaster right now?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.