‘Reser­voir Dogs’ in the White House

Things are fall­ing apart much faster than even the keen­est ob­servers would have pre­dicted

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

An­thony Zurcher, the BBC’s North Amer­ica cor­re­spon­dent, nailed it in a re­port on 27 July. “Where Abra­ham Lin­coln had his fa­mous ‘team of ri­vals’ in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, this is some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Zurcher wrote. “Trump White House seems more akin to the fi­nal scene in (Quentin Tarantino’s film) “Reser­voir Dogs’’, where ev­ery­one is yelling and point­ing a gun at some­one else, and there’s a good chance no one is go­ing to come out un­scathed.”

Sev­eral walk­ing wounded have limped out of the White House since the shoot­ing started – Sean Spicer, Michael Short, Reince Priebus – but no­body would call them un­scathed. The lat­est to take a bul­let is An­thony Scara­mucci, the new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, who was ap­pointed only 10 days ago.

Things are fall­ing apart in the White House much faster than even the keen­est ob­servers of Don­ald Trump’s be­hav­iour would have pre­dicted, and the im­por­tant part is not the dys­func­tion. The United States would work just fine – in fact, rather bet­ter – if Trump never man­aged to turn his tweets into re­al­ity. What mat­ters is that he is cut­ting his links with the Repub­li­can Party.

Trump was never a real Repub­li­can. As a gen­uine pop­ulist, he is ide­ol­ogy-free. If Barack Obama had fallen un­der a bus and Trump had cho­sen to run for the pres­i­dency in 2008, he could just as eas­ily have sought the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

Se­nior Repub­li­cans knew this, and they tried quite hard to stop him from win­ning the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion last year. Af­ter that they were stuck with him, and he did win the White House for them, so they have been in an un­com­fort­able part­ner­ship ever since. That is now com­ing to an end.

Part of the un­writ­ten deal was that es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans get se­nior roles in the Trump White House. Reince Priebus, dis­missed last Fri­day, was the most im­por­tant of those peo­ple. He fol­lowed deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Mike Dubke, press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer and press aide Michael Short, all of whom had al­ready been pushed out.

What’s left are alt-right white na­tion­al­ists like Steve Ban­non and Stephen Miller, New York­ers with Demo­cratic lean­ings like Jared Kush­ner, Dina Pow­ell and Gary Cohn, Trump fam­ily mem­bers (Don­ald Jr. and Ivanka), ex-busi­ness­men like for­eign sec­re­tary Rex Tiller­son (who may be about to quit) and a tri­umvi­rate of gen­er­als in high civil­ian of­fice.

This is a recipe for paral­y­sis, but who cares? Did you re­ally want a White House team that en­abled Don­ald Trump to im­pose his will (or, rather, his whims) on the United States and, to some ex­tent, on the world? Well, no, and nei­ther do se­nior Repub­li­cans – but they do care very much about con­trol­ling the White House.

Repub­li­cans who think longterm are well aware that the chang­ing de­mog­ra­phy of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion is eat­ing away at their core vote. This may be their last chance, with con­trol of both Houses of Congress and (at least in the­ory) of the pres­i­dency, to re­shape their im­age and their poli­cies in ways that will ap­peal to at least some of the emerg­ing mi­nori­ties.

They can’t do that if they don’t con­trol the White House, and the only way they could re­gain con­trol there is for Trump to go and Vi­cePres­i­dent Mike Pence (a real Repub­li­can) to take over. A suc­cess­ful im­peach­ment could ac­com­plish that.

It would be very hard to en­gi­neer such a thing with­out split­ting the Repub­li­can Party, even if the cur­rent FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes up with damn­ing ev­i­dence of Trump’s ties with Rus­sia. Nev­er­the­less, the like­li­hood of an im­peach­ment is ris­ing from al­most zero to some­thing quite a bit higher.

It would be a big gam­ble. The Repub­li­cans in Congress couldn’t re­ally get Trump out be­fore Novem­ber 2018, and the tur­bu­lence of an im­peach­ment might cost them their con­trol of Congress in the mid-term elec­tions. In an ideal out­come, how­ever, it would give the Repub­li­cans time to go into the 2020 elec­tion with Pres­i­dent Pence in charge at the White House and some solid leg­isla­tive achieve­ments un­der their belts.

What would Trump do if he faced im­peach­ment? Maybe he would do a kind of plea bar­gain and re­sign, but that would be quite out of char­ac­ter. His in­stinct would be to fight, and he fights mainly by cre­at­ing di­ver­sions. The best di­ver­sion is a war, but against whom?

Even Trump would have trou­ble sell­ing a war against Iran to the Amer­i­can pub­lic. De­spite all the pro­pa­ganda, they don’t re­ally feel threat­ened by Iran, whereas North Korea says and does things provoca­tive enough to let Trump make a (flimsy) case for at­tack­ing it.

If he thought his pres­i­dency was at stake, he cer­tainly would.

An­thony Scara­mucci

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