Trump’s first appointments do little to lift uncertainty about his reign

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Donald Trump’s first appointments to his administration, announced on Sunday, moved him a little closer to the mainstream of the Republican party and also maintained his stance as an insurgent against the party establishment. They seemed to set up a permanent struggle within his administration and to leave the world guessing about his policy direction after he takes office in January.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2016 (2398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Donald Trump’s first appointments to his administration, announced on Sunday, moved him a little closer to the mainstream of the Republican party and also maintained his stance as an insurgent against the party establishment. They seemed to set up a permanent struggle within his administration and to leave the world guessing about his policy direction after he takes office in January.

Steve Bannon, announced as Mr. Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor, co-equal with the chief of staff, was brought into the Trump election campaign from the Breitbart online news service, a cheeky right-wing fringe voice that championed white-supremacist causes and frequently snipped at Republican mainstream figures such as Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives.

Reinhold “Reince” Priebus, who will be chief of staff, is a Republican backroom figure and a protégé of Speaker Ryan who has never held public office but was credited with strengthening the Republican party in his native Wisconsin. He has been chairman of the Republican National Committee since 2011. He tangled briefly with Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, objecting to the candidate’s tape-recorded remarks about sexual abuse of women and mildly defending the Muslim parents of a fallen U.S. soldier from Mr. Trump’s attacks.

EVAN VUCCI / AP PHOTO
Steve Bannon
EVAN VUCCI / AP PHOTO Steve Bannon

As president, Mr. Trump will need the support of Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Mr. Priebus enjoys their respect. Mr. Trump often spoke dismissively, during the campaign, of the Republican establishment and promised to drain the swamp in Washington. The appointment of Mr. Priebus should reassure the denizens of the swamp that he will be kind to them after all.

The role of Mr. Bannon is more obscure. He is a picker of fights, a peddler of rumours and a pincher of exposed nerves. During the campaign, he helped sustain Mr. Trump’s posture as a champion of the little people who had been forgotten or ignored by the holders of power in Washington. It is far from clear, however, what he can contribute to debate about trade policy, immigration controls, treatment of illegal immigrants or prosecution of the war in Syria.

The title chief strategist suggests he might look at the big picture and not take charge of any particular policy area. He may also be relied on to encourage Mr. Trump and tell him what he wants to hear. His advice during the campaign was to let Donald be Donald. Mr. Trump may be eager to keep hearing that advice.

Mr. Trump has started backing away from some of his campaign promises. The much-touted wall at the Mexican border will be part wall, part fence. The roundup of illegal immigrants will focus on those convicted of crimes. The special prosecutor assigned to put Hillary Clinton in jail will not be a priority. The main health-insurance reforms enacted under President Barack Obama will be retained, while other parts will be changed.

A great deal more backing away lies ahead. Mr. Trump is supposed to renegotiate the country’s trade treaties, revive the economies of rust-belt cities, reduce America’s military role, win its wars and makes its inner-city streets safe while cutting taxes and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. He has given himself two advisers: one to whisper to him the wishes of congressional Republicans, the other to bring him advice from the Tea Party. Uncertainty about his intentions may have a long way to run.

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