Monday, January 08, 2018

Too LIttle, Too Much, Too Late

A great political strategist- Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6-) once put it succinctly, quipping "when you're explaining, you're losing."

Reagan had few original thoughts but was sufficiently crafty to know what plays well in Peoria. And if true that "when you're explaining, you're losing," there is a corollary: when you're clarifying, you're losing.

Steve Bannon less-than-cleverly combined the two when on Sunday he stated  "My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, these comments were not aimed at Don Jr."

David Frum responds "Bannon helpfully explains that Don Jr, CEO of the supposedly multibillion-dollar Trump Organization, was too inexperienced and unknowledgable to realize he shouldn’t receive stolen information from Russian spies,"

In the statement first reported by Axios, Bannon had omitted mention of Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump, but called Donald Trump Jr. "both a patriot and a good man" who "has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around." Again, Frum: "Bannon clarifies: it was not treasonous of Donald Trump Jr. to organize a meeting with Russian spies, only of Paul Manfort to attend it."

Nonethless, as Politico notes

inside the White House, Bannon's 297-word statement of contrition about comments he made in Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" was seen as too little, too late for an operative unaware of the self-inflicted damage his hubris could cause.

It did nothing to quell Trump’s rage at his former chief strategist or the anger of Bannon’s former West Wing colleagues, according to multiple administration officials, who said the vibe in the president’s circle was that people were unmoved by the statement. Asked whether there is anything Bannon can do at this point to get back in the president's good graces, one White House official said curtly, "Unlikely."

Bannon and Trump are wise enough to recognize that each can use the other, and some sort of rapproachment is likely. Still, the response from the White House was far more predictable than that Bannon would do something so foolish as to wait a few days and then issue what The Washington Post referred to as a "mea culpa."

Bannon's (belated) response was both too little and too much.  Trump does not crave approval but adulation.  After passage of the Corporate Tax Scam of 2017, the always-understated Senate Majority Leader McConnell told the President "you hold the record."  House Speaker and perennial ass-wipe Paul Ryan cited "exquisite presidential leadership" and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gushed "we would not be standing here it it were not for you."

Similarly, House Ways and Means Committee chairperson Kevin Brady told the President "but for your leadership we would not be here today" and Senate counterpart Orrin Hatch, chairperson of the Finance Committee, raved "you're one heck of a leader" who "has been making history since the first day of this administration." (In the old days, we would refer to people such as Hatch as "senile.")

Compared to all that, "patriot and good man" (directed at the President's son) is very weak tea and could not impress Donald Trump.

In an ironic twist, however, while Bannon's compliments were insufficient, they also were excessive.

Often generously referred to as a "bully"- fascist would be far impolitic and rude- Donald J. Trump feeds on the weak and the unsuccessful. When candidate Trump trivialized the Vietnam war sacrifice of John McCain, he did not suggest the reports of torture were exaggerated, question their accuracy, or claim the torture was unusually severe. Instead, he maintained "I like people who aren't captured"; that is, individuals who aren't losers.

Once the blowback ensued after the "Sound and Fury" comments were published, Bannon had lost.Yet, iIf he had issued his near-apology immediately, it would have been merely insufficient, having taken place before it was clear the remarks were damaging him. Instead, he waited until the President criticized him, thus making it obvious he issued the mea culpa because his back was against the wall and he had no choice. He was a loser, and Trump pounced.

It was an unforced error on the part of Steve Bannon and a mistake he's unlikely ever to repeat.

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