February 9, 2017


STEVE BANNON AND REINCE PRIEBUS'S WAR FOR THE WHITE HOUSE (Ryan Lizza,   February 3, 2017, The New Yorker)

The Bannonites' executive order prompted widespread protests and multiple crises in the federal government. At the State Department, it triggered a revolt of career diplomats, some thousand of whom signed an official statement of dissent arguing that the policy would do more harm than good. At the Justice Department, the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, decided that the order was discriminatory and took the unprecedented step of ordering the department's lawyers not to defend it in court, causing Trump to fire her. Abroad, the ban set off a series of diplomatic crises. In Iraq, America's most important ally in fighting isis, the parliament reportedly responded by voting to ban Americans from the country. In Germany, America's most important European ally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, said, via a spokesperson, that defeating terrorism "does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion." In a phone call with Trump, she explained the details of the United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention, an international treaty that requires states to protect those fleeing war and persecution.

The first significant policy of the Bannon wing of the Trump White House was executed in a way that insured maximum chaos and confusion. In contrast, Trump's successful rollout of his Supreme Court nominee was largely run by the White House counsel's office, an island in the White House that is relatively free from Bannon's control and has been shaped more by Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican Party and Trump's current chief of staff. A true populist aiming to shake up the establishment in Washington might have found someone outside of the legal monastery, perhaps someone who wasn't even a judge, to put on the Court. Instead, Trump chose a leading conservative appellate judge with Ivy League credentials. The most frequent Republican critics of Trump, such as Senators Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham, cheered the decision. Even Democrats have had to admit that Gorsuch is perfectly qualified.

It's too simple to describe these episodes as purely emblematic of the two warring camps. Priebus has been a steadfast defender of the immigration ban, and as White House chief of staff it's his responsibility to make sure there is a process set up to vet and smoothly implement an executive order. Meanwhile, there's no indication that Bannon had any qualms about Gorsuch.

But the general divide is unmistakable. In conversations I had with people close to Priebus and those close to Bannon, the two sides talk about each other as leaders of a zero-sum fight for control of the West Wing.

Posted by at February 9, 2017 12:25 PM