Tim Stanley: Gorka is latest White House departure. What's going on here?
Trump is failing to manage foot soldiers and provide a clear direction, Stanley writes
Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley, a conservative, is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Sebastian Gorka – among the most loyal of Trump’s staff to his Make America Great Again agenda – is out.
At this point, it’s astonishing that anyone is still working at the White House. In a few more months, the President may even have to do his own cooking.
Donald Trump has lost, among others, his chief strategist, his chief of staff and three directors of communications. Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, has chosen to publicly air his grievances towards Trump’s Charlottesville comments, in which the President equated neo-Nazi marchers with those who protested them – and yet stay in his job rather than resign.
It’s an extraordinary test of the President’s patience and authority. So what is going on?
Cohn’s gambit is an insight into how the Trump White House works. As Politico implies, Trump governs with a kind of creative anarchy: He apparently likes to taunt people, play them off each other and keep them guessing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered his resignation over the Russia affair and Trump criticized him openly, yet he ultimately kept his job. Steve Bannon gave every impression of being certain he was not going anywhere – only to resign or be pushed out, depending on whom you believe.
This makes Cohn’s tactic of signaling discontent without walking away more logical. Some say he’s just hanging on to get the job of chairman of the Federal Reserve.
But let’s imagine, because it’s not hard, that this intelligent, Jewish member of the White House is genuinely angry at the President’s response to the Charlottesville march, that he realizes how complex it can be to resign, doesn’t want to abandon ship anyway because he honestly believes he can help right it, and so chooses to make his point – but stay.
“I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people,” Cohn told the Financial Times. If so, it’s an honorable decision. But it still leaves his position fundamentally untenable.
Trump has chosen to take a stand on the culture war. Right now, many conservatives are embarrassed by the President’s reaction to Charlottesville and want to protect their reputations. In the long run, they might come to thank him for what he did: The activist Left is never going to regard the Republicans as anything other than racist, and someone had to oppose the strange fever of statue demolition sweeping the nation.
Moreover, there’s no escaping the way that Trump’s latest fight with the media excites and rallies his base – the one that put him where he is and that the GOP needs if it’s going to keep its majority in next year’s congressional elections. In other words, love him or loathe him, Trump is the captain of the Republican ship. Republicans like Cohn either have to accept his leadership or disembark. But that’s Cohn’s personal crisis to work through.
Trump’s problem is that the battle with the media is only a distraction from the growing gulf between what he campaigned on and what he’s actually achieving in office. Sebastian Gorka has made this point forcefully. In a resignation letter published by The Federalist website, Gorka said that those on the White House staff who are committed to the President’s Make America Great Again agenda have been isolated.
So, while men like Cohn imply that the administration has gone too far to the right, Trumpites like Gorka complain that it has gone too far to the left.
The big picture of his administration is far from the disaster often suggested: Trump has signed 53 bills into law and the economy is strong. When faced with a crisis, the President has shown decisive leadership. North Korea has, for the moment, been mostly put back in its box, though Pyongyang continues to test missiles; Trump upheld the red line on the use of the chemical weapons in Syria.
But key legislative goals such as health care reform and building the border wall remain unaccomplished, partly because of opposition from moderate Republicans. And the pledge to make America great again is undermined by the impression of chaos in the Oval Office.
Not only is Trump failing to manage his foot soldiers effectively, but he’s also failing to provide clear philosophical direction that commands the loyalty of his staff. It’s every man for himself in the Trump White House, starting with the President.