Wednesday 25 April 2018

Ragged band of outsiders ripped apart by realities of life in the White House

Former Chief Strategist to the President, and alt-right media mogul, Steve Bannon Photo: Reuters
Former Chief Strategist to the President, and alt-right media mogul, Steve Bannon Photo: Reuters

Rob Crilly, Washington

Donald Trump's campaign was the same on the inside as it appeared on the outside: a bunch of political neophytes making it up as they went along, butting heads and doing everything wrong.

Somehow it worked. They dispatched 15 other Republicans on their way to the party nomination before handily beating Hillary Clinton, possibly the most experienced and most prepared presidential candidate in history.

In years gone by, the brains responsible would now be enjoying their rewards. Maybe a plum job in the White House or a chance to do it all again as a vote-whispering guru able to charge top dollar.

That is not quite how it has worked out for Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and the advisers who steered Mr Trump to a victory that reshaped American politics.

Ask where are they now and the answer for several is that they have left politics to spend more time with their lawyers.

In the case of Mr Manafort, who served as campaign manager last year, and his deputy, Rick Gates, it is possible to be pretty specific about where they are now. They are under house arrest in Virginia after being charged with laundering millions of dollars and hiding their work for foreign powers.

Their position is the result of the dark cloud of collusion that hangs over Mr Trump's team as the federal probe into Russian meddling goes about its work, a symptom of how an unconventional campaign and administration is tripping itself up.

Michael Flynn, the retired US army general, was the first to go after Mr Trump's inauguration. He managed only 24 days as Mr Trump's national security adviser before it emerged he lied to the vice-president about contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington.

Today he is one of the biggest targets of federal investigators. Not least because throughout the campaign he played a key role advising on national security and policies of crucial interest to Moscow.

He brought in other short-lived appointments - such as Sebastian Gorka, who made up for his lack of recognised credentials with a sharp line in British-accented bombast that played well on Fox News - and was so central to the campaign that he was considered a possible running mate.

Few serious foreign policy players had wanted to get involved with Mr Trump, which was why so many fringe figures - such as George Papadopoulos - took on roles.

They were characters who had never had a career in Washington or had it cut short, like Mr Flynn, who lasted 18 months at the Defence Intelligence Agency. They were never keepers.

Corey Lewandowski was the first campaign manager but had little experience of national politics. Roger Stone, a long-time operative with a handy line in conspiracy theories, hovered on the edges lurching from one controversy to another.

Others made it through the transition and into the administration but left because of internal tensions.

Reince Priebus was one of the few senior Republican officials who understood that the party would take the blame if Mr Trump lost the election heavily. He helped deliver victory and was rewarded with the post of White House chief of staff.

But even he struggled to reconcile such an unconventional president with the establishment figures in Congress. He left the White House in July after months of turmoil as rival factions clashed.

Steve Bannon, the ideologue behind so much of the campaign, left soon after. His reputation for encouraging Trump to be Trump put him at odds with John Kelly, the then-new chief of staff, who was busy instilling discipline in the West Wing.

It marks an extraordinary rate of attrition for members of the campaign team. Yes, Jeff Sessions clings on as attorney general despite angering Mr Trump for his handling of the Russia probe, and his protégé Stephen Miller prospers in the White House.

But for the most part the key players who survive are members of the family and the Trump Organisation who predate the campaign - Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks. (The other important factions, such as the bankers and the generals, mostly arrived after the election was won.)

In short, the ragged band of outsiders and insurgents who connected with the concerns of American people has been torn asunder by the realities of Washington politics.

In part, it was their own doing. At one stage it seemed as if any chancer with a CV could find a place in the campaign team. The Flynns of this world are unlikely to have survived the vetting required by other more conventional campaigns or the Senate approval needed for other jobs in the administration.

The best equipped to survive are either those with a long history with the president, or the ones who came with less baggage, have kept out of the limelight and built quiet alliances. In other words: Politicians.

That leaves Mr Trump's family in place plus the bankers, globalists and most of the generals who joined him later. The result is an administration that has the outer trappings of a radical, populist movement - regular salvoes in the culture war - but which in Washington has been sucked into pursuing a conventional agenda of tax cuts and small government. The swamp always protects its own. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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