Editorials: The war for Trump’s ear
He’s growing in office, but he must be wary of outgrowing what got him here
There’s an ominous rumble of war in Korea, there’s always an ominous rumble of war in the Middle East, but in Washington we’ve already got the real thing. The combatants are taking no prisoners and the rules of the Geneva Convention do not apply.
This war is ugly, likely to be bloody and won’t ever end, because to the victor goes the ultimate turf and territory, the ear of the president.
Donald Trump’s passion for making America great again is not something that easily translates into policy. He relies on advice from key aides, policymakers, a select group of outsiders, and his family. They naturally can’t all agree on what “making America great again” means. It’s easy to inscribe something on the front of a baseball cap.
Mr. Trump’s solution is to tell ambitious aides to work out their differences, or he will. White House intrigue is as old as the White House and nothing excites a White House correspondent like gossip and tattle. Tales are spun in what the trade calls “dope stories,” as in inside information, but only a dope believes everything he reads. Dope stories are rife with anonymous sources, and such sourcing is sometimes necessary but it’s difficult for a reader to know what to make of the dope.
The first target of the dopesters was Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. There were daily temperature readings of both the president and Mr. Priebus to see how closely they matched. He was blamed for every policy misstep. Now that is so yesterday, and Steve Bannon, the president’s chief political strategist, has become chief target. The gossips say his walking papers have been prepared and are soon to be delivered. (But maybe not.)
For every leak there’s a leaker, and the object of the game is to find out who the leakers are. “Informed speculation” points to a coterie of New Yorkers tied to presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, and to Gary Cohn of the National Economic Council, who is said to lust for Reince Priebus’s job. The New Yorkers want Mr. Trump to moderate his views, to be kinder and gentler, and spend more time working on issues important to “people like us.”
Mr. Cohn was once chairman of Goldman Sachs, one of the purveyors of the Wall Street stink that the president once denounced with passion and fervor. In those distant days he was eager to carry Hillary Clinton’s purse after it was padded with green stuff from “people like us.” Now he can educate the president about how wrong he is about abortion, immigration, radical environmentalism and the rest.
Steve Bannon’s mere presence in the West Wing is a constant reminder of the fact that the unemployed blue-collar stiffs in the dying towns of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and the Rust Belt were exactly who put Mr. Trump in the White House.
Mr. Trump, like every president before him, finds governing much more difficult than campaigning, and he’s entitled to choose his advisers, even a daughter and a son-in-law. All presidents take counsel where they find it. Jimmy Carter once famously said he looked to his daughter Amy for advice on arms control, and she was only 13 years old.
Donald Trump deserves more credit than many are willing to give him for winning the election. Getting to be the president of the United States is not easy; only 44 men before him have done it. One of this president’s strengths is his willingness to gather around him men and women who have opposed him in the past. But he has to be wary of those who want to transform him into a respectable low-energy “statesman” with a fine political pedigree. They’re the losers he often disdains. He should remember that “you always go home with the one who brung you to the dance.”