Bannon Is Failing the Leadership Test

by Cinzia Croce

Ever since leaving the White House, Steve Bannon has done a masterful job crafting a public persona as the insurgent general leading the fight to rescue Trump’s agenda from the corrupt GOP establishment.  Complete with the crumpled Indiana Jones jacket and unshaven face, the self-described president’s wingman wasted no time declaring war on Mitch McConnell and calling for a populist takeover of the Republican Party. Bannon’s fiery rhetoric and pledge to hold accountable Republicans who betrayed their voters are music to the ears and hearts of many party activists who long ago realized that the likes of Ryan and McConnell pose the greater obstacle to their aspirations than the Democrats. If anyone still has any doubts about McConnell’s commitment to undermine the president, his handling of tax reform should remove them. The Senate GOP bill postpones the corporate tax cut – the very jet fuel Trump needs to get the economy roaring – until 2019. It is almost as if McConnell is hoping the GOP will lose control of Congress and clear the way for the Democrats to remove the president from office.

When it comes to taking on the GOP establishment, Bannon deserves encouragement and applause from anyone who wants the Trump administration to succeed. However, holding political enemies accountable is not enough to be an effective leader. It is very easy to rail against those we despise – in fact, it is quite enjoyable. The true test of leadership is holding political friends accountable when their actions are just as harmful as enemy attacks and on this score Bannon is failing — bigly! Continue reading

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Amnesty Don Never Wanted a Wall

by Cinzia Croce

For months I have been wondering why Donald Trump was not aggressively pursuing funding for his big, beautiful border wall. Even setting aside the question of whether Mexico will pay for it — Trump could have pushed for legislation taxing remittances to Mexico, or demand that a down payment on the wall be part of the continuing resolution funding the government last spring — Trump seemed quite happy to delay the appropriation for his signature issue until “a later date”. The same is true of DACA. Despite promising to end it on Day One of his presidency, the administration kept issuing new work permits for over seven months. It was also baffling that Trump filled the White House with individuals who do not agree with his campaign stance on illegal immigration, while those who did left the administration (except Stephen Miller). After the events of the last few days, I believe I finally have my answer: Trump was never serious about building the wall or having illegal immigrants leave the country. He only used his immigration stance to win the election, and ever since he reached the White House, he has been buying time while working to find a way to ditch his campaign commitments without losing his base.   Continue reading

On Tax Reform, Trump’s Chasing Another Dead-End

by Cinzia Croce

The Mooch warned us. After his departure from the White House, Anthony Scaramucci granted his first interview to George Stephanopoulos and declared that Trump needed  “to move away from that sort of Bannonbart nonsense”  and “…move more into the mainstream. He’s got to be more into where moderates are and the independents are.”

A week later, we got the first taste of what a more “mainstream” Trump will be like. In his Afghanistan speech, he announced that he was going to turn his back on his instincts and campaign promises and send more troops to Afghanistan to “seek an honorable and enduring outcome.” Yesterday, we got the second taste of the New Trump, when he delivered a speech calling for tax reform that could have easily been delivered by Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It was full of the old Reagan Republican buzzwords like “growth” and “opportunity,” and stale, crusty talking points like “Americans know better than Washington how to spend their own money.” Trump the rebel, the insurgent candidate that took Washington by storm, is slowly morphing into just another traditional Republican politician promising more tax cuts and wars. Continue reading

How Steve Bannon Walked Away a Winner

by Cinzia Croce

As the resident populist commentator, I actually welcome the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House, and am not at all surprised by it. Months ago, I came to the conclusion that Bannon would be more effective on the outside — where he doesn’t have to worry about keeping a low profile just to appease the president’s ego, or watch his back in the midst of all the palace intrigue. For the past year, Bannon has cleverly used his association with Trump to build his brand — through magazine covers, books, and documentary profiles like the one done by Frontline. He now enjoys international fame, and his publication Breitbart is set to become the premier voice in Republican politics, while old standbys National Review, the Weekly Standard and even Fox News will continue to fade, which is the price they pay for making the wrong bet. Reporters from all over the world will look to Breitbart for reactions to everything the Trump administration does going forward. Does Bannon approve or disapprove of the latest policy decision? Does Bannon believe the president is staying true to his promises? On top of this, his enemies no longer can scapegoat him for any failures of the Trump administration. Bannon personally could not be in a better strategic position than if he had carefully planned it.

No one should be surprised by Bannon’s departure. On several occasions, Trump has signaled his displeasure with Bannon receiving so much credit for his victory. During his last press conference, Trump (once again) pointed out that Bannon joined his campaign late, and only after he had defeated seventeen Republican primary opponents — many of whom were considered the best and the brightest the party had to offer. Of course, the president conveniently ignores that it was Bannon who built a large, receptive audience for Trump, given his stances on immigration, trade and foreign intervention. It was Breitbart that enthusiastically backed his candidacy when more mainstream conservative publications were publishing “Against Trump” symposiums and Fox News was trying desperately to convince their audience that Marco Rubio was the future of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, it was clear that the media portraying Bannon as The Brain and Trump as The Performer was simply too much for the president to bear. Trump is a proud man, and the thought that Bannon would also receive the credit for any future successes must have been intolerable. Continue reading

Mike Pence Is Useless

by Cinzia Croce

I was never a fan of Vice President Mike Pence. I thought his addition to the presidential ticket brought nothing to the table, and I and feared that his hardcore social conservatism would derail the Trump campaign. Thankfully, my fears never materialized. Social issues remained marginalized, and for most of the campaign Pence was invisible. The one time the he was under the spotlight — the vice-presidential debate — Pence passed his test with flying colors. I was so impressed with his performance that I offered a mea culpa and declared that I was thrilled to have been wrong. Looking back, it wasn’t so much that Pence shined but more that Tim Kaine dimmed in his lousy attempt to play the attack dog. Nevertheless, now that I have had six months to evaluate Pence’s contributions to the Trump administration, I can confidently say that my initial assessment of him was right on target: he is a dead weight.

Mike Pence

The Pence pick was hailed by conservatives primarily for two reasons: first, he would appease the GOP establishment and help unify the party behind Trump; second, as a former member of the GOP congressional leadership, he would be able help Trump get his agenda through Congress. He has spectacularly failed on both counts. The GOP establishment has never united behind Trump. During the campaign, they made repeated attempts to push him out of the race — most notably, by overreacting to the Billy Bush tape — and, since the inauguration, have tried to damage the president politically by aggressively pursuing the Russia-collusion investigation and vehemently defending special counsel Robert Mueller. As far as helping the president get his agenda through Congress, the administration has not been able to score one major legislative victory in six months. Pence has made several trips to the Hill and has nothing to show for it. His latest humiliation was his unsuccessful last-ditch effort to convince John McCain to support the so-called Obamacare “skinny repeal”. Only legislation in which there is clear common ground between Trump and the GOP establishment — e.g. reducing regulation, judicial appointments and improving healthcare delivery to veterans — is getting through Congress. Funding the president’s signature issue, the wall, has been postponed until the fall, and Republican senators are already making noise that they may never support building it. Continue reading

Laura Ingraham for Communications Director

by Cinzia Croce

Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as Director of Communications at the White House was brief but impactful — he was able to push out Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus in just a matter of days. He showed a lot of gusto — albeit heavy-handed gusto — in his approach, and it’s hard to see how his free-wheeling style would fit with the military discipline of the new Chief of Staff, General John Kelly. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that the infamous interview Scaramucci gave the New Yorker was the reason for his departure, but it is more likely that his personal issues played a larger role. His wife has filed for divorce, and it promises to be a nasty episode, certain to generate lots of scandalous headlines –- another distraction the Trump administration does not need. Scaramucci fought very hard to get his ten days in the White House and I believe he will make a comeback after he settles his personal life.

One person sure to be thrilled at Scaramucci leaving the White House is Laura Ingraham. For months her name had been floated for Director of Communications, and when it was announced that Scaramucci had gotten the job, she wasted no time to voice her strong disapproval. She began an unrelenting attack on him while filling in as host on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News Channel. She continued to blast him the next morning on her radio show and then on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, took the weekend off, and resumed her criticism on Monday. She seemed more upset about Scaramucci than the GOP failure to repeal Obamacare. Her reaction was so disproportionate that one has to wonder whether it was a case of sour grapes — but now she has another chance and her name is being floated again.

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At Last, Trump Finds His Groove

by Cinzia Croce

After six long months, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to shine for the Trump Administration. Just a couple of weeks ago — in what seemed the darkest hour — the president’s opponents were celebrating finding the “smoking gun”: the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. But as soon as it was revealed that one of the attendees had worked for the U.S. government during the Obama administration, all the headlines about the meeting magically disappeared.  Without missing a beat, the president’s critics were back to being horrified at the chaos enveloping the White House.

Incoming Director of Communications, Anthony Scaramucci, wasted no time publicly identifying the source of the administration’s problems. During an interview on CNN, he said: “There are people inside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president.”  Reince, most certainly, is among the people Scaramucci was referring to. I believe that his task was to fill the White House with GOP establishment loyalists and keep Trump in check while Mueller worked to put pressure on the president to resign by going after his family and business empire. I also believe that the persistent leaking was not due to “turf battles” but rather a carefully orchestrated plan to create an atmosphere of chaos, incompetence, and turmoil around the White House, hoping that the GOP base would give up on Trump and say “We tried the outsider, but now it’s time to go back to experienced hands.” It didn’t work. The GOP establishment is on his way out and soon the White House will be ‘running like a fine-tuned machine’.

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