Yesterday the headlines blared, “Donald Trump to sign executive order withdrawing US from Nafta.” Given that the plan was to sign the order this week, it was obvious that the desperation the White House is feeling about propping up Trump’s ego heading into his 100th day in office was the big driver.
But twenty-four hours later, the story has flipped to, “Trump Rules Out Swift Nafta Exit in Favor of Renegotiation.” How and why did things change so dramatically in just one day? The answer to that question provides us with a case study in why chaos continues to reign in the Trump administration.
First of all, the battle for the so-called “Game of Thrones” continues.
President Donald Trump’s top advisers are embroiled in a debate over how aggressively to proceed on reshaping U.S. participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement, with hard-liners favoring a threatened withdrawal as soon as this week and others advocating for a more measured approach to reopening negotiations with Canada and Mexico.
We’ve come to know the players pretty well. On one side are the nativists like Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, head of Trump’s National Trade Council. On the other side is the Goldman Sachs wing of the cabinet led by Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council. Members of Congress joined the latter group.
Early returns from Capitol Hill lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were not encouraging and suggested that a go-it-alone move from the White House without Congress’ backing could cause trouble down the road, as the administration looks to strike a series of nation-to-nation “America First” trade deals.
No fewer than four influential Republicans said the White House should hold up, with GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona saying that such a move would have “the worst possible impact” on his state.
Rather than being a problem for this president, he seems to thrive in an environment where factions of his staff go to war with each other. That is why this kind of chaos is a defining characteristic of his administration.
But there is yet another factor that seems to have affected the dramatic reversal.
Breaking Trump statement: "President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time" in convos with Mexican and Canadian leaders today.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 27, 2017
In other words, we are once again witnessing the pattern of bluster followed by surrender when Trump actually engages with individuals. One can only imagine that this is the one that enrages the Bannon’s and Navarro’s of the administration. But it tends to empower the Goldman Sachs crew. So it seems that the latter might have “won” this particular round.
What we can learn from this case study is that chaos will continue to define this administration as long as assuaging Trump’s ego is the primary directive, the management style that feeds the Game of Thrones atmosphere survives, and the pattern of bluster followed by surrender persists.