Steve Bannon, the latest official to leave the Trump Administration, commented in an interview yesterday that the Trump presidency that “we fought for, and won, is over” citing opposition from the establishments of both parties to Trump’s agenda. But what does this comment really mean?
The Trump Presidency will not be literally over anytime soon, of course. Any conclusion in Robert Mueller’s investigation or any real movement toward impeachment is a long way away. Some, including the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, have predicted that Trump will resign before any removal process begins to pick up real steam. But this also seems unlikely to occur soon: after all, Trump has only been president for about seven months.
While it is inaccurate to say that Trump has gotten nothing accomplished, he has struggled to pass any major legislation thus far. I see two main reasons for this that are inherent in Trump’s personality: his ego and his inability to learn how to be a president. Not only did Trump assume his position with no experience, but he seems to have learned nothing from his term so far.
Some may be encouraged by the departures of White House staff such as Bannon and Scaramucci. But the important thing to remember is that Trump is in charge, and he answers only to himself. It is clear that no one can control him or moderate him: no chief of staff will be able to. Trump has done and said whatever he has liked for his whole life. He will never “pivot” or change. His tremendous ego also ensures that he constantly attacks fellow Republicans: Sessions, McConnell, and Jeff Flake have all come under his fire in the last few weeks. This ego has led Trump to become increasingly isolated, meaning he has lost influence and therefore power. His relationship with Congress has also become noticeably worse over the summer, with more Congressmen willing to criticize him openly.
His ego also ensures that he never admits mistakes. Condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists should have been an easy statement to make. The media and some of Trump’s staff essentially pushed Trump to make this statement Monday after his “many sides” comment created controversy. But Trump’s ego would not allow this to be the end of the matter. Trump’s press conference on Tuesday was a huge self-inflicted wound, and it was entirely Trump’s fault.
The way his administration has been going, Trump could clearly use some help. But his staff is racked by infighting and he shows no interest in studying the institution of the presidency and how to succeed at it. He has no interest in learning about American history, his predecessors, how the government actually works, etc. He has continued to tweet asinine statements and shows no indications that he will stop. Nothing suggests that Trump will make a concerted effort to work harder and improve at the job in the future, and the blame again rests entirely with Trump.
In short, the most likely prediction for the future of the Trump administration is that things slowly get worse. Some factors will help him: most Republicans still support him, and the economy looks solid for the near future. It will take a lot for Trump to hemorrhage even more political support. But (as this link shows) a lot has happened already and the news cycle has been relentlessly against Trump for months. More staff will likely come in and out, but Trump himself will never change, ensuring that any legislation that achieves part of his agenda will pass because of congressional Republicans, not Trump. Healthcare and tax reform are two of the hardest things to get done in Washington and would stand a good chance of failing under any President. But Trump’s inability to rally support from Congress (especially the Senate) and his lack of leadership or understanding of policy detail make every one of his initiatives harder.
Bannon suggested that the staff remaining around Trump (presumably including Kushner, McMaster, and Gary Cohn among others) would push him to moderate, meaning that his original agenda is what is “over”. But for the reasons above about Trump’s own ego and personality, I find it unlikely that Trump will moderate in a significant way or for a long enough period of time to attract support. Most Democrats and many independents have been turned off by at least one of Trump’s hundreds of lies or offensive comments, or his dumpster fire of an administration. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that roughly half the country will never support him.
Trump may eventually be impeached, or he may resign. But for now, he will stay on the downward, unsustainable trajectory that he was on. Bannon’s statement that Trump’s presidency is effectively over is correct.
Photo credit Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons