Those Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Something was up. Milwaukee was on fire – one more police shooting of one more young black man had finally been one too many – so Donald Trump scheduled a rally safely outside Milwaukee, in front of an all-white audience, to rile everyone up about law and order as the answer to everything. But that started an hour late, and it wasn’t a rally – the Trump folks said to expect a major policy speech and that’s what Trump delivered. He was bold. The “war on cops” has to end, but he understands the anger. He addressed Black America – if there is such a thing – and told them that Democrats had never done a damned thing for them, ever, but he would. He told them to take their anger out on the Democrats, not on the cops. That did not go over well – since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 everyone knows who is on whose side in these matters – but it really didn’t matter. Most of the polling shows that Trump will get about one percent of the black vote in November, if he’s lucky, and people immediately forgot this speech anyway. About an hour after he wrapped up, the Wall Street Journal broke the big story that would eclipse anything he said thirty miles west of Milwaukee.

Perhaps that was intentional. He must know he’s never going to be seen as the champion of any minority. This seemed to be no more than a “See, I tried with these damned people” message to those who’d like to see all those damned people shot dead right now. It was code – and he had other things on his mind. All the polling shows he’s going to lose in November in a Clinton landslide, and the polling was getting worse by the day, so it was time to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If he’s going to go down in flames, to mix metaphors, well, he’ll do that his way. There would be no more attempts to pivot to the middle, to show he could be calm and reasonable. He hates being calm and reasonable. Screw that – he’d change everything about his campaign:

Donald J. Trump named as his new campaign chief on Wednesday a conservative media provocateur whose news organization regularly attacks the Republican Party establishment, savages Hillary Clinton and encourages Mr. Trump’s most pugilistic instincts.

Mr. Trump’s decision to make Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website, his campaign’s chief executive was a defiant rejection of efforts by longtime Republican hands to wean him from the bombast and racially charged speech that helped propel him to the nomination but now threaten his candidacy by alienating the moderate voters who typically decide the presidency.

It also formally completed a merger between the most strident elements of the conservative news media and Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was incubated and fostered in their boisterous coverage of his rise.

Breitbart News is for those who consider Fox News and the Drudge Report far too bleeding-heart liberal, and also want almost every Republican now in office to resign in disgrace immediately and there was also the guy that Fox News just ousted:

Mr. Bannon was appointed a day after the recently ousted Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, emerged in an advisory role with Mr. Trump. It was not lost on Republicans in Washington that two news executives whose outlets had fueled the anti-establishment rebellion that bedeviled congressional leaders and set the stage for Mr. Trump’s nomination were now directly guiding the party’s presidential message and strategy.

Expect an attack on the Republican Party too:

Mr. Bannon’s most recent crusade was his failed attempt to oust the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, in this month’s primary, making his new role atop the Trump campaign particularly provocative toward Republican leaders in Washington.

Party veterans responded Wednesday with a mix of anger about the damage they saw Mr. Trump doing to their party’s reputation and gallows humor about his apparent inability, or unwillingness, to run a credible presidential campaign in a year that once appeared promising.

“If Trump were actually trying to antagonize supporters and antagonize new, reachable supporters, what exactly would he be doing differently?” asked Dan Senor, a longtime Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney and his running mate, Mr. Ryan, in 2012.

Terry Sullivan, who ran Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, said Mr. Trump and Breitbart “both play to the lowest common denominator of people’s fears. It’s a match made in heaven.”

But Trump was fed up with these people:

Only last week, Mr. Trump publicly expressed ambivalence about modifying his style. “I think I may do better the other way,” he told Time magazine. “They would like to see it be a little bit different, a little more modified. I don’t like to modify.”

He likes to clean house:

Kellyanne Conway, a veteran pollster and strategist who was already advising Mr. Trump, will become his campaign manager and is expected to travel with the candidate, filling a void that opened up when Corey Lewandowski was fired on June 20.

Still, this looked like chaos:

Mr. Trump’s loyalists put the best possible face on the changes announced Wednesday, but their timing, after a New York Times article detailing his advisers’ frustration at trying to impose discipline on him, underscored why so many in the party have soured on his prospects: His decisions are often made in reaction to news coverage.

He gets pissed off. He changes everything after he rants and calls everyone, everyone who he thinks disrespects him, names. That’s who he is, so it’s best to just ride with it:

Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, will retain his title and focus on the political shop but was widely seen as being sidelined: Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway have both developed close relationships with Mr. Trump, and Mr. Bannon is likely to be more amenable to letting him run the sort of media-focused campaign he prefers.

“This is an exciting day for Team Trump,” Mr. Manafort wrote in an internal staff memo. “I remain the campaign chairman and chief strategist, providing the big-picture, long-range campaign vision,” he added.

No one believes that. There’s a new sheriff in town:

Mr. Bannon has overseen a site that is focused primarily on pushing Republicans away from what it calls a globalist agenda and toward a hardline and often overtly racial one, railing against what it sees as the threats of free trade, Hispanic migration and Islamist terrorism.

“This is Trump going back to the nativism and nationalism that fueled his rise in the primary,” said Lanhee J. Chen, who was Mr. Romney’s policy director in 2012. “But it’s very dangerous to the future of the party because it only further narrows the appeal of a party whose appeal was already narrow going into this cycle.”

Mr. Chen called Mr. Trump’s shift “a base reinforcement strategy” and noted that it was very different from the tack of most party nominees, who use the final months of the presidential race to broaden their appeal in hopes of winning over the maximum number of voters.

But to those on the right who are hoping to permanently shift Republicans away from free-market conservatism and toward a harder-edged populism, the addition of Mr. Bannon was a victory for the “America First” approach they want to ingrain in the party.

And they have money behind them:

Mr. Trump’s elevation of Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway also highlights the growing influence of Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, conservative donors from Long Island. The Mercers are investors in Breitbart, and their foundation funds a host of other conservative activist groups. They spent millions on Senator Ted Cruz’s behalf during the Republican primary, an effort Ms. Conway helped lead. And they began bankrolling a pro-Trump “super PAC” in recent weeks after becoming friendly with Mr. Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Mr. Kushner.

That’s how these things work, even if they upset people:

Rival conservative news organizations viewed Breitbart as something of an outlier, which was evident in the title of an article the Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes wrote on Wednesday: “Trump Has Decided to Live in Breitbart’s Alternative Reality.”

“It’s the merger of the Trump campaign with the kooky right,” William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said of Mr. Bannon’s new role.

In May, Breitbart had called William Kristol a renegade-Jew – so there’s no love lost there – but Breitbart loves Roger Ailes:

The website emerged as a singular defender of Mr. Ailes, with a piece about a planned walkout by network stars loyal to him should he be forced out – it never came to pass – and one by Mr. Bannon ridiculing the “minor Murdochs” (the 21st Century Fox chief Rupert Murdoch’s sons and co-executives, James and Lachlan), who were seen as leading the push for Mr. Ailes to resign.

And really, what’s with this sexual harassment stuff? Boys will be boys – and Bannon is actually running things now. It will be like odd times:

For Democrats, Donald Trump’s decision to put Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon – a man they dismiss as a conspiracy theorist – in charge of his campaign is vindication of a conspiracy theory of their own.

“The merging of the vast right-wing conspiracy and the train wreck that is Trump is now complete,” said Tracy Sefl, who was the Clinton campaign’s designated “Drudge whisperer” in 2008, thanks to her unique relationship with Matt Drudge.

The Clintons have long maintained that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” is out to get them, as Hillary Clinton told NBC News’ Matt Lauer not long after The Drudge Report introduced the world to Monica Lewinsky in 1998.

They might have been wrong then, but not now:

Bannon has actually made it his explicit goal to succeed where his predecessors failed. “In the 1990s,” he told Bloomberg, “conservative media couldn’t take down [Bill] Clinton because most of what they produced was punditry and opinion, and they always oversold the conclusion: ‘It’s clearly impeachable!’ So they wound up talking to themselves in an echo chamber.”

So in addition to feeding that echo chamber at Breitbart – which one former staffer says has turned into “Trump’s personal Pravda” – Bannon founded the Government Accountability Institute, which digs up fact-based scoops that it shares with mainstream media outlets like the New York Times.

Bannon, for instance, helped orchestrate the publication of “Clinton Cash,” the explosive book by GAI President Peter Schweizer, which detailed alleged conflicts of interest and pay-for-play politics between the Clintons and the donors to their foundation.

Trump has been talking about that for months. He may get all his news from Breitbart News. He simply made the relationship formal.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent finds this puzzling:

That Donald Trump has shaken up his campaign and is doubling down on the narrow strategy that worked in the GOP primaries but is failing catastrophically in the general election – would appear to leave only two possibilities.

Either Trump is delusional, to the point of being entirely incapable of appreciating why he’s currently losing to Hillary Clinton. Or he has a diabolical plan to break apart the Republican Party and pocket a big chunk of it for himself, for post-election fun and profit. My money is on the former.

Go with delusional:

Trump remains trapped in the mental universe he inhabited during the primaries. That was a place where the size of his crowds at rallies actually did portend victories over less colorful and entertaining opponents who failed to create a mystique to rival his. It was a place where he really could win through sheer media dominance alone, because the bigotry, xenophobia, and all around depravity and wretchedness that drove that dominance – and with it, the name recognition that allowed him to blot out his rivals – did not alienate large numbers of Republican voters in the manner he is currently repulsing key general election constituencies. Trump now appears determined to prove that the same formula – which basically constitutes whipping up white backlash through rousing rallies and a continued emphasis on ethno-nationalism (leavened a bit by pretend minority outreach gestures) – can work in the general.

Yeah, but white backlash is kind of useless:

One way to understand how unlikely this is to succeed is to look at yesterday’s Post poll of Virginia, which showed Clinton leading Trump by 52-38. Virginia is a New South state that is slowly slipping into the Democratic column, due to demographic shifts that are growing the state’s populations of college educated whites and nonwhites. It represents in microcosm the broader demographic trends that are driving the Democratic Party’s success in national elections. Our poll finds that Trump is viewed unfavorably in the state by 70 percent of college educated whites, 70 percent of women, 84 percent of nonwhites, and 73 percent of voters under 40 years old. These are precisely the demographics Trump must improve among to win. Yet he is doubling down on precisely the approach that continues to alienate them, with the result that the map is broadening for Democrats.

Does Trump really think that will work? If so, who knows, perhaps he will be proven right. He could succeed in uniting Republicans in the home stretch. External events or new Clinton revelations could enable him to prevail, even as he resolutely sticks to his approach. But that seems unlikely at this point.

Okay, so then go with the diabolical plan:

One other explanation for Trump’s latest moves comes courtesy of CNN’s Brian Stelter, who suggested this morning that Trump may be positioning himself to launch a new media enterprise after a November loss. Bannon and former Fox exec Roger Ailes (who is also advising Trump), Stelter noted, would be just the team for Trump to do that. If so, perhaps Trump is very consciously sticking to his strategy of fusing white nationalism with rousing WWE-style political entertainment, and very consciously avoiding broader demographic outreach that might dilute this approach’s appeal to his core constituencies, in order to split off a chunk of the GOP and keep it for himself later as a following and national audience.

Perhaps Trump does want to build a media empire, with Roger Ailes’ help to outfox Fox News and make a shitload of money – which would be sweet revenge for Roger Ailes too – and that would explain this:

Top Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort had cautioned the candidate against posting his infamous Cinco de Mayo tweet declaring “I love Hispanics!” but was ignored, according to a Wednesday report.

In a piece for The Huffington Post, Howard Fineman reviewed Manafort’s stint as one of the top operatives in the Trump campaign, citing the now-infamous taco bowl tweet as one instance where Manafort attempted to rein in Trump’s provocative rhetoric and failed.

According to the report, an unnamed member of the Trump family had suggested the original tweet, which declares that “the best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill.”

“Manafort politely suggested that this might be seen as condescending and cautioned against it,” Fineman reported, but “the tweet went out” anyway.

Trump was reportedly delighted by backlash against the tweet, saying that “the people who were offended were people we wanted to offend.”

That’s the original Fox News model. There’s a ton of money to be made there, but Karen Tumulty and David Weigel report that Steve Bannon may have bigger fish to fry:

At the lowest point of Donald Trump’s quest for the presidency, the Republican nominee might have brought in a political handyman to sand his edges. Instead, he put his campaign in the hands of a true believer who promises to amplify the GOP nominee’s nationalist message and reinforce his populist impulses…

Breitbart has since become a champion of Trump’s candidacy – in large part because Stephen K. Bannon himself believes it represents a cause much bigger than a political campaign. Bannon sees Trumpism as part of a global movement that will continue, no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office next January, those close to him say.

Last September, when hardly anyone else on this side of the Atlantic was taking the prospect of a British exit from the European Union seriously, Bannon invited influential Republican leaders to a dinner for Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party, at the Capitol Hill townhouse known as the “Breitbart Embassy.”

Steve Bannon thinks internationally:

One headline last October dubbed Bannon “the most dangerous political operative in America.”

In that Bloomberg News article, Joshua Green reported that Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of the site, had “described Bannon, with sincere admiration, as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” a reference to the infamous and glamorous maker of Third Reich propaganda films.

Moviemaking has been one of the many chapters of Bannon’s career, which had previously included four years aboard a Navy destroyer, a post-MBA stint with Goldman Sachs, and founding an investment firm specializing in media.

In one particularly felicitous deal, Bannon’s fee included an early stake in “Seinfeld,” the residuals of which alone would turn out to be enough to make him wealthy.

Along the way, he developed a worldview remarkably in tune with what is now regarded as Trumpism: suspicious of free trade and liberal immigration policies, wary of military adventurism, and contemptuous of the old order.

That’s worldwide now, as E. J. Dionne notes here:

The new leadership – with Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway displacing Paul Manafort at the top of the heap – is likely to steer Trump even more in the direction of the European far right. It also tells you something that Bannon sees Sarah Palin, about whom he made a laudatory documentary, as a model for anti-establishment politics.

Bannon is close to Nigel Farage, the former head of the right-wing UK Independence Party, who offered “massive thanks” to Breitbart News for supporting the party’s successful campaign for Britain’s departure from the European Union. “Your UKIP team is just incredible,” Bannon told Farage in an interview after the June Brexit vote.

Bannon is out to change the world everywhere. A Trump presidency would be small peanuts to him, but Dionne doesn’t see that happening:

There is much good news but one piece of bad news for Clinton in the Trump shake-up. The bad news is that she is likely to have to play more defense, especially if Bannon builds on his success in enticing reporters at non-conservative media outlets to work on stories damaging to her.

The good news is that Trump seems determined to fight through the campaign on his terms. This reduces the chances that he will drop out of the presidential race, which, in turn, means that Clinton is more likely to avoid what would be the biggest blow to her chances: a Trump withdrawal and the naming of a new GOP candidate.

Trump’s campaign is likely to look more extreme, which cannot help the flailing candidate in the suburban, highly educated precincts in states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina where he is hemorrhaging more upscale Republican votes. Bannon’s fascination with Palin, who turned off many such voters to John McCain after he chose her as his running mate in 2008, could aggravate rather than ease this problem.

Okay, forget Trump, but don’t forget Bannon:

Bannon’s rise dramatizes the catastrophe GOP establishmentarians brought upon themselves by imagining that they could use the far right for their own purposes while somehow keeping it tame. Bannon’s European interests suggest he is far more impressed by right-wing third parties than by traditional Republicanism.

Those could be right-wing third parties anywhere. This is bigger than our puny election. Trump thinks he’s using Bannon, but Bannon may be using him. Or the whole thing could be a lot of crazy people who, after November, will find themselves with a lot of time on their hands, because the American people aren’t that crazy – unless they are.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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