There has been a ton of chatter about the meaning of Pres. Trump hiring Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, complete with the rumor that he is expected to replace Reince Priebus as chief of staff. Along with Trump’s disparagement of his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, the speculation has focused on how Trump may move to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing any ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
People seem to be focusing on the court intrigue and scandal, when there may be bigger issues to consider. I would argue that hiring the Mooch signals Trump’s desire to “Let Trump Be Trump,” which will have ramifications beyond the Russia probe.
Mooch reporting directly to Trump does more than emasculate Priebus and suggest him as an heir apparent; it reflects the degree to which Trump still views the presidency as a comms job. By inference, a Let Trump Be Trump vibe will reinforce Trump’s general lack of interest in policy. It therefore also suggests that policymaking in the Trump White House may continue to be a less-than-coherent populist hodge-podge.
For example, Trump yesterday publicly warned Senators to vote to move forward on the GOP’s health care bill. Unlike others, having just noted the limits of the bully pulpit, I don’t fault Trump as much as many do for not having tried to sell this effort more. Moreover, as a conservative, I would prefer that Congress take more responsibility for its constitutional role and don’t care much for the GOP’s health care bills.
Nevertheless, I also cannot blame GOPers in Congress for noticing that he celebrated the passage of the House bill, only to call it “mean” in the days that followed. Or that he has previously endorsed the idea of simply letting Obamacare fail before castigating the Senate for possibly taking that path.
Letting Trump Be Trump means that he will continue to be an unreliable partner in passing a GOP agenda and that the dysfunctional relationship between the White House and Congress will continue and perhaps deteriorate further (making Priebus that much more expendable, ironically). Other executive branch efforts like regulatory reform may continue in their low-profile way, primarily because Trump cares little about them. But his inattentiveness may also affect other functions important to his political success:
List of judicial vacancies w/o nominees is crucial 2 address this month: https://t.co/LWPhENGdCW. Impossible 2 understand how it languishes.
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) July 2, 2017
(In fairness, liberal Ron Klain remains alarmed by the pace of judicial nominations.)
Letting Trump Be Trump will also affect foreign policymaking. We read about NSA McMaster becoming estranged from SecDef Mattis and SecState Tillerson, apparently over Afghanistan policy in particular.
On the merits of Afghanistan, it’s more than fair for Trump to “want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years.” But that impulse, combined with Trump’s shift to defer to Russian influence in Syria, and his (admittedly reluctant) recertification of the Iran nuclear deal, might make one question the seriousness of the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric in his Warsaw speech. And one might ask how any or all of this fits with his Riyadh speech (which is why I didn’t think the Warsaw speech meant all that much).
Granted, I never expected a Trump doctrine. And it may even occasionally be to our benefit if our global rivals and opponents cannot always predict what Trump might do in a given situation. But more often, our friends — and our rivals — depend on a certain level of stability on our part. Indeed, Letting Trump Be Trump may even cause a certain level of queasiness in a GOP Congress, beyond the issue of U.S./Russia relations (on which the pending sanctions bill may be just an opening skirmish).
Relatedly, while many see hiring the Mooch as a move to building a war cabinet, the kerfuffle over Scaramucci deleting various anti-Trump, pro-Hillary, and other RINOish tweets also suggests a concern on the Right that Letting Trump Be Trump will eventually push him back toward the Democratic donor Trump was about 15 minutes before he went Birther. A comms director, like a lawyer, can make an argument for a client without agreeing. The discomfort here seems to be that people suspect New Trump would still be receptive to the views of Old Mooch.
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