Despite media, Trump-Bannon economic nationalism alive and well
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The reports of Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonTrump team fiercely debates how long coronavirus restrictions should stay in place Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response Sunday shows preview: Trump administration prepares response amid coronavirus outbreak; Joe Biden makes his case before Super Tuesday MORE’s demise have been greatly over-exaggerated.

The media has pilloried Steve Bannon to the point of utter exhaustion, both ours and theirs apparently. After a solid month of insisting that Bannon and his brand of economic nationalism were on the way out of the White House, he remains in place, and the president continues to emphasize the themes that won him the election in November — much to the consternation of the Washington opinion-making set whose reputation depends upon the presumption that they have an inside line to the inner workings of power in the nation’s capital.

The mainstream media spin on Bannon’s loss of influence and relevance has been achieved primarily by glossing over inconsistencies in their own narrative about his role and influence in the White House, and, more insidiously, by introducing into their narrative a total caricature of the “America First” themes whose political resonance they have so badly underestimated.


The stories pinning the blame on Bannon for supposed policy fiascos in the first 100 days don’t withstand the slightest scrutiny, as the details simply don’t add up. For instance, Bannon was accused (by anonymous “inside” sources) of playing a key role in sinking the health care bill produced by House leadership with ham-handed and counter-productive threats to Freedom Caucus members and other recalcitrant legislators. 


But the implicit presumption that those dead-end members of the GOP caucus were inclined to make a deal is clearly erroneous: every credible account makes it apparent that they were negotiating in bad faith and moving the goalposts at every opportunity, since their political incentives all lay in the direction of scuttling deals in the name of ideological purity and accusing the White House and Congressional leadership of selling out. With regard to the judgement that the votes were there to pass the bill, every credible post mortem has laid the blame at the feet of House leadership.

Bannon has also been blamed for the “failed” executive orders banning travel from a limited number of countries with terrorism problems, with little acknowledgment that Hill staff, not Bannon, drafted the order. The media also failed to offer any persuasive argument that the striking down of those orders by rogue federal judges inflicted any real political damage on the president. In fact, it is more likely that the judicial actions striking down traditionally constitutional executive prerogatives on who can come into the country outraged the middle Americans who voted for Trump in droves, however much they may have pleased the coastal elites.

Bannon was also characterized as the boogeyman on the National Security Council in an attempt to divert attention away from the vigorous advocacy on the part of the usual suspects in Washington’s foreign policy establishment to push the administration back in the direction of interventionism and regime change. In fact, just days after his removal from the NSC — meetings which he rarely, if ever attended — we verged into the action in Syria, contradicting many indications during and after the campaign about the wisdom of intervening in that troubled region.

Subsequent statements from President Trump reveal that he’s well aware that such action threatens to alienate the base from the administration if it progresses into sustained involvement and another failed effort at regime change, which he vows to avoid.

The fact is, few of the media's assertions about Bannon are true, the base hasn't been alienated, and the president is continuing to emphasize the themes that he was supposedly abandoning just weeks ago. On a recent trip to Wisconsin, Trump continued to denounce NAFTA and vow the renegotiation of trade deals that have hurt American workers, an issue he had supposedly scrapped.

And now the administration is vowing, in the teeth of Democratic threats to shut down the government and behind the scenes opposition from GOP congressional leadership, to go to the mat for budget appropriations to build the wall on the Mexican border.

It is true, as the president himself has insisted, that Trump really is his own advisor, counselor and strategist — and easily the most successful at all of those jobs. But I suspect Bannon will always remain a close advisor because he brings something different to the White House, and that is primarily the deep curation and activation of a movement—and it is that work that is so vital for continued political success in implementing an America First agenda.

His advocacy for a real economic nationalism will remain central to the administration’s policy vision. And not the cartoonish economic nationalism defined by the national media as a tariff war against the world, blended with protectionist policies, and all justified by some xenophobic, reactionary irrationalism to put America first.

No, the economic nationalism that Bannon brings to the table harkens to something much deeper, and ultimately much more American. It is a clear realization that the ideals Americans cherish — free markets and trade, democratic institutions and respect for dissent, freedom of religion — are far from universal, and we must not pretend that all share these values and lay down in the face of threats to our national security. It is essentially an argument for realism and against rigid ideology guiding policy decisions, whether that ideology be laissez-faire, progressive, or neoconservative.

In this realist worldview, Bannon is actually more allied with some of the non-ideological, business-oriented elements of the administration (who he is purportedly at war with) than he is with the GOP establishment elements, who still display a rigid adherence to the old Republican playbook.

On nationalist issues like infrastructure development, building the wall, and avoiding foreign policy quagmires, Trump faces more potential opposition from his own party establishment than he does from the so-called Wall Street-Democratic cabal in the White House. Moving forward, we can be reasonably confident of two things: the media narrative regarding what’s going on in this White House will continue to be wildly off-base, and we will see some unexpected alliances presided over by the Dealmaker-in-Chief.

Robert Wasinger served in senior advisory and liaison roles in President Trump's campaign and transition team, after extensive experience on Capitol Hill.

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