Which Trump will show up at the White House?

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle McMan

— We’ve seen two Don­ald Trumps in the past week. Which one will ar­rive at the White House on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day?

The com­bat­ive Trump who called Pres­i­dent Obama “a dis­as­ter” and Hil­lary Clin­ton “a crim­i­nal,” or the gra­cious Trump who praised them after he won?

The venge­ful Trump who vowed that Paul Ryan would pay if he didn’t sup­port him fully, or the party-uni­fy­ing Trump who met cor­dially with Ryan last week?

The prickly Trump who tweeted on Thurs­day about “pro­fes­sional pro­test­ers, in­cited by the me­dia,” or the states­man­like Trump who tweeted on Fri­day that he loved the de­mon­stra­tors’ pas­sion?

We won’t know for a while. It’s pos­si­ble that Trump hasn’t de­cided yet.

More than most pres­i­dents­e­lect, Trump is still some­thing of a blank slate — de­spite the mil­lions of words he has spo­ken over the last year. He’s never held pub­lic of­fice. He’s still an out­sider in his own party. His at­tach­ment to his pur­ported poli­cies is un­clear and sub­ject to con­stant re­vi­sion.

Al­most the only thing we know for cer­tain about Trump is that he is driven by a bound­less will to win what­ever com­pe­ti­tion he’s in. “My life has been about win­ning,” he told an in­ter­viewer last year.

But “win­ning” was easy to de­fine in the heat of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, with an elec­tion as its goal.

The test Trump faces now is an es­say ques­tion, not a zero-sum con­test: What will his def­i­ni­tion of “win­ning” be once he’s pres­i­dent?

We’ll get an early clue from one of his first de­ci­sions: whom he names as White House chief of staff.

Trump aides last week said two of the lead­ing can­di­dates were Stephen K. Ban­non, the chief strate­gist for his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and Reince Priebus, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

They rep­re­sent a clear choice be­tween two ver­sions of Repub­li­can­ism in the new Trump era. Ban­non, head of the Bre­it­bart News or­ga­ni­za­tion, is an apos­tle of the down­mar­ket, blue-col­lar pop­ulism that helped Trump win mil­lions of votes in the Rust Belt — and a de­fender of the “alt-right” camp that at­tracted white na­tion­al­ists to the cam­paign. Priebus, by con­trast, is a more con­ven­tional con­ser­va­tive, a Wis­con­sin party op­er­a­tive who built an ef­fec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion at the RNC. Ban­non has sug­gested that Ryan should be ousted as speaker of the House; Priebus is a Ryan fan.

The di­vide is more than ideo-


log­i­cal. Ban­non and Priebus rep­re­sent com­pet­ing def­i­ni­tions of what a Trump pres­i­dency would be about and how it would gov­ern. Long be­fore Trump, Har­vard po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Joseph Nye ar­gued that there are two kinds of pres­i­den­cies: trans­for­ma­tional and trans­ac­tional. Trans­for­ma­tional pres­i­dents seek to change the po­lit­i­cal land­scape in fun­da­men­tal ways; trans­ac­tional pres­i­dents seek to man­age the land­scape pretty much as it is.

If Trump chooses Ban­non, that will sug­gest that he wants to be a trans­for­ma­tional pres­i­dent — that he wants to re­make the Repub­li­can Party, and that he won’t hes­i­tate to clash with Ryan and GOP con­gres­sional lead­ers if they get in his way (for ex­am­ple, by try­ing to rein in his plans for a big-spend­ing in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram).

If he chooses Priebus, that will sug­gest that he’s cho­sen a less dis­rup­tive trans­ac­tional strat­egy, and that he’ll be will­ing to bar­gain with GOP lead­ers in Congress over pri­or­i­ties and spend­ing lev­els. In­deed, some Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment lead­ers are still hop­ing that Trump will sub­con­tract much of his leg­isla­tive agenda to Ryan and Se­nate leader Mitch McConnell.

Ban­non would be a deeply po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure; Democrats — and many Repub­li­cans — al­ready think he’s an ex­trem­ist. His ap­point­ment would launch the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion into a vir­tual civil war within the GOP. By the end of last week, Repub­li­cans in Congress were lob­by­ing against his se­lec­tion, ar­gu­ing that he’d mire the new pres­i­dent in a con­flict he doesn’t need. (In­deed, one aide sug­gested to me that Ban­non’s name had been leaked to make the even­tual ap­point­ment of Preibus — or any­one else — more palat­able.)

Trump was re­mark­ably flex­i­ble dur­ing the cam­paign, even on is­sues at the core of his can­di­dacy. His pro­posed ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the United States turned into a milder sug­ges­tion for “ex­treme vet­ting.” His vow to de­port mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants be­came a de­ci­sion for “a later date.” His threat to with­draw U.S. troops from Europe, he said, was mostly a ne­go­ti­at­ing chip.

But in the weeks be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion, he has to make real de­ci­sions that aren’t so eas­ily un­done: the ap­point­ments to his White House staff and other top jobs. An an­cient rule in Wash­ing­ton holds that per­son­nel is pol­icy. Through his choices, we will soon dis­cover what kind of pres­i­dent this chimeri­cal man may turn out to be.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Read­ers may send him email at doyle. mcmanus@la­times.com

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