Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump’s Dueling White House Heads

Priebus and Bannon will be ‘equal partners.’ This will be interesting.

By Review & Outlook
The Wall Street Journal
November 14, 2016

Donald Trump’s success as President will depend on whether he can merge his populist instincts with the reform agenda of Republicans in Congress to form a united and effective government. His choices for his most senior White House aides suggest those two tendencies will compete in his Administration the way they did during the campaign.

Mr. Trump offered something for both camps Sunday with his announcement that Reince Priebus will be his chief of staff while Stephen Bannon will be chief strategist and senior counselor. Mr. Priebus is the head of the Republican National Committee who stuck with Mr. Trump despite the many valleys of the campaign and provided the get-out-the-vote operation that Mr. Trump lacked. Mr. Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker, Naval officer and Breitbart News executive who joined the campaign with Kellyanne Conway in August amid one of those valleys.

It’s hard to know whether this is will be a sublime union of yin and yang or “Survivor: Trump White House.” Typically the chief of staff runs the White House and is the President’s most trusted adviser. But it’s notable that the announcement from the Trump transition established no clear hierarchy between the two men. The transition statement said that “Bannon and Priebus will continue the effective leadership team they formed during the campaign, working as equal partners to transform the federal government, making it much more efficient, effective and productive.”

Equal partners? Rarely does any organization run well if there are dueling heads, and one reason the Obama Presidency suffered is that his early chiefs of staff were undermined by the competing influence of White House aide and Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett.

Mr. Trump has sometimes set up competing forces within the Trump Organization, as he did with his Atlantic City casinos. This arrangement can succeed if Messrs. Priebus and Bannon divide responsibilities cooperatively, but it will lead to a mess of leaking dysfunction if they divide into competing factions. Someone will have to be the final word on who gets to see the President and which issues require a presidential decision.

The two men certainly come with different instincts and constituencies. Mr. Priebus is an establishment operative who built the Wisconsin GOP into one of the country’s most effective state parties. He has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republicans across the country. He brings knowledge about how Washington works that is essential if Mr. Trump is going to move fast to take advantage of whatever honeymoon he will get.

Mr. Bannon represents the insurgent forces that helped propel Mr. Trump to the GOP nomination. His Breitbart website essentially became an arm of the Trump campaign and targeted other Republicans for attack, often inventing facts along the way. Mr. Ryan has been a frequent target. The site’s main policy preoccupations are hostility to trade and immigration, views that Mr. Bannon will presumably bring to White House debates.

A Washington clichĂ© is that personnel is policy, and that may be more true for Mr. Trump than for most Presidents because his campaign agenda was relatively general and narrow. Mr. Trump assured Americans that he could run the government because he had succeeded in business, and voters gave him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll see how these competing White House forces shake out.

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