Bannon Firing Proves Trump is Winging It

He risks having no base from which to build, no prospect for governance.

In the wake of Stephen Bannon’s firing, it has become almost inconceivable that President Trump can avoid a one-term fate. This isn’t because he sacked Bannon but because of what that action tells us about his leadership. In celebrating Bannon’s dismissal, The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial: “Trump can’t govern with a Breitbart coalition. Does he see that?” True enough. But he also can’t govern without the Breitbart constituency—his core constituency—in his coalition. The bigger question is: Does he see that?

It’s beginning to appear that Trump doesn’t see much of anything with precision or clarity when it comes to the fundamental question of how to govern based on how he campaigned. He is merely a battery of impulses, devoid of any philosophical coherence or intellectual consistency.

Indeed, it’s difficult to recall any president of recent memory who was so clearly winging it in the Oval Office. Think of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom made huge mistakes that cost them the White House. But both knew precisely what they wanted to accomplish and how to go about accomplishing it.

.. Further, that agenda had to give a majority of Americans a sense that

  • the economy was sound and growing,
  • that unnecessary foreign wars would be avoided,
  • that domestic tranquility would prevail,
  • that the mass immigration of recent years would be curtailed,
  • that the health care mess would be fixed, and that
  • infrastructure needs would be addressed.

Consider some of the elements of conventional wisdom that he smashed during the campaign.

  • Immigration
  • Foreign Policy
  • Trade

The important point about these issues is that they all cut across partisan lines. That’s what allowed Trump to forge a nontraditional coalition that provided him a slim margin of victory—but only in the Electoral College. His challenge was to turn this electoral coalition into a governing one.

.. What we see in these defeats and stalled initiatives is an incapacity on the part of the president to nudge and herd legislators, to mold voter sentiment into waves of political energy, to fashion a dialectic of political action, or to offer a coherent vision of the state of the country and where he wishes to take it. Everything is ad hoc. No major action seems related to any other action. In a job that calls for a political chess master, Trump displays hardly sufficient skills and attentiveness for a game of political checkers. 

.. It’s telling, but not surprising, that Trump couldn’t manage his White House staff in such a way as to maintain a secure place on the team for the man most responsible for charting his path to the White House. This isn’t to say that Bannon should have been given outsized influence within West Wing councils, merely that his voice needed to be heard and his connection to Trump’s core constituency respected.

But that’s not the way Trump operates—another sign of a man who, over his head at the top of the global power structure, is winging it.