Trump is so Incompetent that Impeaching Him Would Strengthen the Right
by Benjamin Studebaker
I finally got around to reading Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s January opus on the dramedy going on inside the Trump administration. When this book came out in January, much of the talk was about whether it implied the president lacked the mental faculties to govern. But I think this book contains a more interesting angle–it illustrates precisely why the Trump administration is so erratic and inconsistent on policy and has helped complexify my understanding of how the admin works. Most importantly, it illustrates why other Republican administrations would be much more disturbing.
As Fire and Fury tells it, the Trump administration is split into three factions:
- The Bannonite, right nationalist faction, initially lead by former Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon (now led within the admin by Senior Adviser Stephen Miller). This faction wants Trump to be tough on China, stay out of Middle East conflicts, increase tariffs, restrict immigration, and relentlessly attack the media.
- The Republican establishment, pro-Ryan faction, initially led by former Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus (now led within the admin by Chief of Staff John Kelly). This faction wants Trump to be like Jeb Bush.
- The Kushner/Ivanka (Kushvanka) Wall Street Democrat faction, still led by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner. This faction wants Trump to be like Hillary Clinton.
In previous writing, I’ve argued that Trump is a con man, that he takes positions that are contradictory for political advantage. His only goal is winning, and he’ll attach himself to whichever kind of politics he believes facilitates that. This is why we can never take Trump at his word, both when he is sounding very nationalist and when he is sounding very moderate. He wants to win more than he wants to do anything in particular.
But of course, the people who work in the administration actually want to use their power to do specific things. Each faction tries to win Trump over by convincing him that they can help him win. “Winning” means getting more people to like Trump and making the rest suffer. The Kushvanka faction tends to emphasise getting more moderates to like Trump while the Bannonite faction tends to emphasise making Trump’s enemies suffer. The GOP establishment faction emphasises its ability to offer Trump legislative victories, which might do some of both.
Trump refuses to pick one of these factions and stick with it. Even when he fires someone like Priebus or Bannon, their factions don’t go away. Stephen Miller is around to speak for the Bannonites, and John Kelly is around to speak for the Republican establishment. Ivanka and Kushner never go anywhere, because they’re family and can’t be fired.
The factions all contradict each other constantly. Their goals can’t all be pursued together. So invariably on different issues at different times, some of them win and others lose, all depending on which person the president spoke to most recently and what kind of mood that person left him in. It’s like a royal court–the advisers and courtiers try to win the king’s fickle favour. Their influence is never secure, and the president’s position can change daily or even hourly. This prevents the administration from having any grand strategy. The president doesn’t have consistent aims other than his own popularity and vengeance, and the policies which flatter or soothe the president’s ego change all the time. No one in the administration can expect any long-term plan to be pursued. Because of this, the administration tends not to get anywhere. Like the man in charge, the administration has no attention span, no ability to direct itself toward any particular goal and no ability to continue down any fixed path.
This would change completely if we replaced Donald Trump with a president who belongs to any one of the three factions. The factions are sufficiently different from one another that each is an obstacle to the other two. None are advantaged in cooperating with the others. Give power to one of the factions and the other two are purged out. The competition among the groups is adversarial and mortal rather than friendly. This is not a “team of rivals”, it’s a team of enemies.
The Vice President and most of the president’s cabinet are not Bannonite or Kushvankian. They’re establishment Republicans. Trump filled the administration with party swamp creatures. So if Trump is removed, he will be replaced by an establishment Republican who will purge out the Bannonites and the Kushvankians and pursue straightforward Republican policies. Because the administration won’t be distracted by the Bannonites and the Kushvankians, it’s much more likely to stick to its goals and devise effective strategies for pursuing them. Such an administration would be a clear asset to congressional Republicans.
Fire and Fury reveals that while the Kushvanka faction is the most moderate, it is also the most politically neophyte. Most Wall Street Democrats take jobs working for Wall Street Democrats. They aren’t working in the Trump administration. So the Kushvanka faction has no policy expertise to draw on. Its leadership–Kushner and Ivanka–has no political experience and doesn’t know what it’s doing. Because of this, the Kushvanka faction often screws up. Fire and Fury claims they were the driving force behind the firing of James Comey. That firing inflicted the Mueller investigation on the administration and that investigation damages the administration’s ability to control the headlines and push policy. The Kushvanka faction is both a moderating influence and a force for incompetence–it routinely shoots the administration in the foot. Its existence is an asset to those of us who want the president to be less right wing and to those of us who don’t like the administration’s policies and want it to fail to accomplish them. The cabinet hates the Kushvanka faction, because the GOP establishment thinks Kushvanka make it harder for the administration to do Republican things. This is a great reason to root for the survival of the Kushvanka faction, and a great reason to oppose Trump impeachment. Trump impeachment would lead to a President Pence who would fire the Kushvankians or strip them of influence.
It is the Bannonite faction which most concerns those wishing to impeach Trump. The Bannonites are often the worst faction–they are the most explicitly racist, they are the ones pushing for ludicrously strict immigration policies, and they are the most hostile to the press. But there are reasons to tolerate them. The GOP establishment and Kushvanka factions are both very conventional on foreign policy, favouring the hawkish approaches we associate with Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. The Bannonite faction seems to be distinctly less hawkish–according to Fire and Fury it was against bombing Syria and it was against deploying more troops to Afghanistan. Insofar as the Trump administration is against “dumb wars” this comes from the Bannonites. They were also the driving force in killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Sometimes the Bannonite faction is the least bad one. If we were to remove the Bannonites, it would make it easier for the administration to cooperate with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, and it would increase the risk of silly foreign interventions. They gum up the works and sometimes they speak for peace.
All the symptoms of the Trump administration’s incompetence–the ridiculous things Trump tweets, the inability to take and hold consistent positions, the constant staff turnover–are valuable to us insofar as they obstruct the administration from successfully advancing a coherent conservative agenda. It is the ways in which Trump fails as a manager which make him better for the left than many other Republicans would be. He creates, tolerates, and perpetuates administrative chaos. Eliminating him would eliminate the chaos, but it would leave us with a more effective right wing administration. It is a gift to the left to have a Republican Party which is led by someone so utterly feckless. We mustn’t throw the advantage away. Fire and Fury leaves me even more convinced that Donald Trump must be allowed to finish his term if at all possible. Let these people be their own undoing, and let the left profit from their failure–not Mike Pence and his friends.